By Oakland Post
Student organizers with Oakland Kids First (OKF) secured $3.6 million over the next two years to improve healthy food options for Oakland public school students.
The student organizers from Castlemont, Fremont, Oakland Tech, and Oakland High schools launched the Free Supper for Hungry Minds campaign in response to the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of Education’s decision in June of 2018 to terminate the popular Free Supper program.
The program provided free, hot evening meals to more than 3,000 low-income elementary, middle, and high school students each day who participated in after-school programs and athletics.
After months of student advocacy, OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel reinstated the Free Supper program this past January thanks to widespread community support for the students’ demands.
However, they were told a more sustainable solution would have to be found to make the critical program viable long-term.
As the Free Supper program temporarily relaunched in January, OKF partnered with the Superintendent’s office to solicit funding for OUSD’s Department of Nutrition Services from the new Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax (SSBT).
Students fought for a 20% annual portion over the duration of the Measure HH tax to fund expanded healthy food options for Oakland students – including support for the Free Supper Program and completion of OUSD’s central kitchen.
During months of negotiations around this critical issue, student organizers argued that the city has a moral responsibility to help feed low-income and food-insecure kids and that a partnership with OUSD was an efficient and robust way to positively impact thousands of children daily.
Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan championed their cause through contentious budget negotiations to help secure approximately $3.6 million (about 18% of the taxes collected) of Measure HH funds over the next two years to invest in OUSD’s Department of Nutrition Services.
Those funds will be used to save the Free Supper program and help complete the district’s central kitchen so that fresher and healthier food options will be available for students during breakfast, lunch, and supper.
“For the City of Oakland to give us $3.6 million from the sugar-sweetened beverage tax to improve OUSD nutrition services is great, especially for food-insecure students,” said Castlemont High School student organizer Keyanna Scott-Wilson.“What this means for food-insecure students is that they will be able to have access to food at school if they cannot at home that will help them better focus on schooling and learning!”
The city’s investment in expanded healthy food options is critical for two main reasons. Given that 75% of OUSD students are eligible for free or reduced price meals and 46% of children in East Oakland live beneath the federal poverty line, the maintenance of the free supper program ensures hot evening meals are available to students who may otherwise struggle to find one.
And secondly, the investment in the completion of OUSD’s central kitchen will ensure all meals in OUSD are fresher, healthier and tastier to better serve the 40% of OUSD middle and high school students who currently eat fast food every day and the 50% who drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage per day.
“Young folks are rarely centered in discussions around community health and poverty and their voices and expertise are seldom heard or heeded in the halls of power,” said OKF Executive Director Lukas Brekke-Miesner. “This allocation of funds affirms our youth and acknowledges the tremendous needs facing them and their families.”
Oakland Tech student organizer Malia Liao added, “To witness the City of Oakland listen to and center student voice means everything to me. It showed us the power and influence we have on our community to do good. This is what it looks like to center equity. Being a part of this fight has been such an honor I will never forget.”
Oakland Kids First would like to thank The Sugar Freedom Project, the Alameda County Food Bank, the Center for EcoLiteracy, and the OUSD Superintendent’s office for their partnership and advocacy. OKF and our student organizers also deeply appreciate Council President Rebecca Kaplan and her staff for championing this cause and the Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board for their thorough and thoughtful community process and willingness to put Oakland kids first.
For more information about Oakland Kids First, visit https://www.oaklandkidsfirst.org/.
This article originally appeared in Post News Group.