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Helmut Schmidt, Published February 07 2013

F-M area groups scramble to cover milk costs for kids in need

FARGO – North Dakota House lawmakers have denied an attempt to get state funding to pay for milk for kids from low-income families.

It means the Fargo and West Fargo school districts will have to continue relying on donations to provide milk or juice during break times for elementary-age students whose families can’t afford it.

Moorhead also relies on donations, except for kindergartners, who get their milk provided free.

Lawmakers in the North Dakota House voted 24-69 Wednesday against a measure sponsored by Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, to allocate about $1.2 million in state funds to ensure all kindergarten through third-grade students from low-income families get milk or juice during class breaks.

“I’ve worked in education. I know the importance,” Boschee said. “When kids are hungry, they lack focus. When they lack focus, they don’t do as well as their peers.”

He said he’ll try to get the measure tagged onto an appropriations bill.

The Fargo Public Schools Development Foundation is trying to plug the gap between haves and have nots.

The foundation’s “Got No Milk” drive brings in $25,000 to $30,000 a year, said Executive Director Carol Johnson.

But the estimated need is $69,000 a year for 1,150 students whose families are too strapped to pay the $60-a-year cost.

“That leaves about half unserved, so there is a big need,” Johnson said.

The issue is also on the radar of school parent-teacher groups. At Washington and Lincoln elementary schools, the PTAs encourage donations to fund milk and juice for students in need.

“The PTA’s mission is to help students the best they can,” said Lincoln PTA Co-President Betsy Beaton. “If this is one of the ways we can help them, we’ll certainly put our best foot forward.”

Greta Hansen, co-president of the Washington PTA, said the drinks are not just important nutritionally, but socially. Not having milk or juice at break time can single out a child as being poor.

“Kids definitely notice,” Hansen said. “If you can’t take part in something as simple as a glass of milk, it makes you stand out even more.”

In Minnesota, the cost of milk is covered for kindergartners, said Donna Tvedt, Moorhead’s food service director.

Beyond kindergarten, the district relies on gifts from churches and other groups to pay for milk for elementary-age students in need, she said, “but it’s not all that often” that those donations come in.

That means some Moorhead kids don’t get milk at break time, Tvedt said.

In the West Fargo School District, “many, many families can’t quite afford” the cost of milk for their children, Food Service Director Jan Sliper said.

Donations from individuals, service clubs, churches and other groups plug the gaps.

“We can honestly say that if they want milk, they will get it. The need has been met,” Sliper said, though “it would be nice to have it more dependable.”

Johnson said the U.S. Department of Agriculture used to help pay for midmorning milk along with the hot lunch program.

Several years ago, USDA then moved to paying for hot breakfast and lunch. Milk for breaks became an option, she said.

“The teachers really like the midmorning milk break because it helps the students stay focused,” Johnson said. “It gives the kids a chance to refuel, and get back to thinking on task.”

Johnson said the Fargo foundation fundraises for “Got No Milk” through mailings. She said the group will now seek donations in the annual Giving Hearts Day drive on Feb. 14, which is sponsored by the Dakota Medical Foundation and the Impact Foundation.

Up to $4,000 in donations made that day to the Fargo schools group will be matched by Dakota Medical Foundation. All the money will go to the milk program, Johnson said.

To make a secure online donation to the foundation or other charities, go to www.impactgiveback.org on Feb. 14 and click on the Giving Hearts Day “donate” button.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583