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Hot dogs? Cheesy bread? Bonamici stops at grade school, talks nutrition

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici enjoys some lunch at W. Verne McKinney Elementary School in Hillsboro last week after chatting with local hunger advocates. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici showed up at Hillsboro’s W. Verne McKinney Elementary School last Thursday, March 31, to discuss child nutrition with others concerned about food insecurity.

Representatives from the Oregon Food Bank, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, local food pantries and more came together to share success stories of feeding hungry children and talk about upcoming legislation that affects access to healthy food, including the pending reauthorization of the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Summer Food Service Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Bonamici introduced bipartisan legislation in November — known as the Early Childhood Nutrition Improvement Act — which modifies the existing Child and Adult Care Food Program. The bill reduces paperwork for childcare providers and allows them to offer a third meal to children who are in care for more than eight hours.

With about 80 percent of the school’s students living in poverty, HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Sixth-graders asked Bonamici questions during her visit last week and ate lunch alongside the congresswoman.Principal Justin Welch said all students at McKinney receive free lunch and breakfast. Debbie Hadley, the school’s kitchen manager, applauds the free meals. Because all students receive them, free meals don’t call attention to impoverished students, she said.

This is a big deal, said discussion participant Annie Kirschner, program director for Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, who often felt a negative spotlight because she grew up receiving meal assistance.

Jeff Kleen, public policy advocate at the Oregon Food Bank, said the OFB serves 33,000 people each month in Washington County through 48 pantries and serves about 8,400 meals from prepared meal sites. Statewide, about one-third of those served are children.

After the discussions, Bonamici headed to the school’s cafeteria, where she met kitchen staff and dished up a tray of cheesy bread and fresh fruit and vegetables. She then visited sixth-grade classrooms and ate lunch with students after answering a few questions.

“Are Democrats the ones who tax more and want to help people?” one student asked.

Another young man guessed there were 35 U.S. representatives. After a few more guesses around the room, Bonamici told the students there are actually 435.