Community School Breakfast program

A generous group of Shenandoah County residents and business people is hungry to help kids in need. They’re ensuring all students in Shenandoah County Public Schools are able to get breakfast, regardless of their ability to pay.

The Community School Breakfast Program has been providing free breakfasts to county schoolchildren since the 2009-2010 school year.

Founder Fred Hepner Jr. said the idea came after a woman he attended church with told him an unfortunate story from one of the school cafeterias.

“This lady that worked at [a] school was telling me about the children not getting breakfast,” he said. “They was getting off the bus and they was hungry, and [she] talked about this one little boy who was hungry and he went through the line twice.”

The student didn’t have any money to pay and wasn’t signed up for the free and reduced lunch program, Hepner said.

“They dumped his tray twice,” he said. “I didn’t believe that they could do that. But come to find out, because of regulations and as strict as they were, that’s what they had to do.”

Hepner decided to see if funds could be raised to cover the cost of breakfast for those children whose parents maybe couldn’t afford to pay for breakfast, but didn’t qualify for the free and reduced program, or weren’t comfortable signing up for it. The Community School Breakfast Program will also pay for anyone who may have forgotten their money on a particular day.

“The cafeteria knows that if a child doesn’t have money or is not on the free and reduced list, then they take it out of this fund,” he said.

No one has to sign up to be covered by the funds, Hepner said.

“The good Lord had his hands in it,” he said. “Everything just fell into place so quick. The business people and the people in the community had no idea this was going on, [that] there was kids in Shenandoah County that was that hungry.

“It took me about half a day to get the funding to get that thing started. I’ve had to take some money out of my pocket to do it some, but it’s not been bad. People have blessed it. To date, we’ve served over 50,000 breakfasts.”

The first year, $7,200 was raised, and 5,750 breakfasts were paid for. In the 2015-2016 school year, $11,709 was raised, and 9,367 breakfasts were served with that money.

The program was originally just in the elementary schools, but is now available in all of the schools in the Shenandoah County Public Schools division.

More than 44 percent of Shenandoah County’s schoolchildren qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, according to literature from the breakfast program. It says that 73 percent of teachers say kids who’ve had breakfast pay better attention in class, 53 percent see more attendance and nearly half report fewer disciplinary problems.

Mirah Fields is one of eight people who serve on the breakfast committee. She keeps track of donors and makes sure brochures and mailings are sent out, raising awareness of the program.

“Just learning about the need in the county and the poverty level that we have, it just was an eye opener,” Fields said. “Sometimes the parents who are not able to afford the breakfast, they wouldn’t say anything, they were almost embarrassed, or whatever. We don’t want the children to be embarrassed either.”

Hepner said Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg has a particular need for funds at this time. Donors can send checks directly to the school they choose. They should make a notation on the check that the money is for the breakfast program.