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Appearing in The Washington Post, April 15, 2004

D.C. Meal Program Changes Proposed
Report Says Help Can Reach More

By Valerie Strauss and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 15, 2004; Page B01

The District agency in charge of feeding poor residents should make substantive changes in the way it operates to reach more people, according to a report issued yesterday by a task force created by Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

The report details problems with the way the District's State Education Office has operated a handful of federally funded programs, sets out multiyear goals for improvement and offers a step-by-step blueprint for how this summer's critical feeding program for children should be run.

It also says that planning for the summer of 2004 is already behind schedule and implicitly criticizes the education office by noting actions that the office is already supposed to be taking.

" We believe the recommendations embodied in this report . . . will develop the kind of infrastructure we've been lacking in this city to bring to scale a very effective summer feeding program that will eventually cover all of our hungry residents, not just our children," said Carolyn N. Graham, former D.C. deputy mayor for children, youth, families and elders, who served as a co-chairman of the task force.

Williams (D) created the task force in October after concerns were raised in the city -- where one of every 10 households is hungry -- about the Summer Food Service Program. There were repeated complaints of botched community outreach, poor marketing and other problems with the program, which is designed to feed the 42,000 students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch during the school year.

" The timing of this report is critical," Williams said yesterday.

Williams directed the panel to analyze the operations of the Special Nutrition and Commodities Program, which operates out of the education office. C. Vannessa Spinner, director of the education office, has taken a leading role in the nutrition program.
The report says the nutrition program should be made autonomous from the education office because it is now operating "without clear definition and clarity." Spinner did not immediately respond to a request for comment yesterday.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said the task force report offers some good ideas. But he said he would like even more moves, including changing who oversees the food program.

" The agency responsible for feeding has demonstrated an inability for follow-through," Mendelson said. "One can have the best-laid plans, and that still cannot get us to where we need to be."

One section of the report presents a far-reaching vision of feeding every hungry District resident and offers a three-year plan to do so. In the first year, it suggests that the mayor reconstitute the city's Commission on Food, Nutrition and Health and ask the D.C. Council for funding if necessary.

In the second year, the report said, the commission is to "begin to develop a comprehensive approach to nutrition."

The section of the report that discusses program, management and operations deals specifically with summer feeding, though the mayor had asked the panel to look at all of the more than half-dozen programs operated by the education office. Still, it presents a detailed plan for how to feed the city's hungry children during the summer.

The report sets a 2004 summer goal of feeding 25,000 children -- which is less than the education office said it would feed. That goal increases to 33,000 in 2005 and all 42,000 children in 2006. In four key areas, the report notes that the education office is already behind schedule in its planning for 2004.

In 2002, there was a 40 percent drop in participation in the summer food program. Last year, there was an 18 percent increase, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has attributed the jump to participation of the Capital Area Food Bank, which is the Washington region's largest nonprofit nutrition and food organization. That group dropped out for the coming summer because of many problems it said it had working with the State Education Office.

" We expect the recommendations to be carried out," said Kimberly Perry, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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