Berkeley Elementary joins state breakfast program

During the launch of the new ‘Breakfast After the Bell’ initiative, children, at left, were given healthy activities to keep them busy while their parents learned about the program. Below, School Principal Natasha Baxter, at right, and chef Joe Maida, left, were handing out samples of the packaged meals. Bottom right, tables were set up for parents who wanted to sign up or receive more information.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A small fair was held on the grounds of Berkeley Elementary School on Wednesday, Aug. 29, to kickoff a big step forward. Beginning this year, children attending the school will be able to receive a free breakfast under a program called “Breakfast After the Bell.” A bill requiring districts to establish the program in schools with at least a 70 percent eligibility for free and reduced meals was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy earlier this year. Berkeley is at 67 percent eligibility and according to Karen Lore, the director of the Bloomfield Department of Health, its participation was voluntary. Other Bloomfield schools with a percentage in the high 60s, she said, were Watsessing and Carteret elementary schools.

Lore said her department applied for a NJ Healthy Communities grant and received $20,000 which is being funded through the Partners for Health Foundation, located in Montclair. The grant is to be divided equally between healthy eating and active-life programs. The grant will help implement the breakfast program while the U.S. Department of Agriculture will reimburse the district for money spent for the program. Students not eligible for a free or reduced meal can also be part of the program, but their families would be charged a fee by the district.

“We approached the school district and said we have the money,” Lore said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “We wanted to work with ‘Breakfast After the Bell’ and the Berkeley principal, Natasha Baxter, said she was willing to pilot the program. It will be evaluated to see if it could be implemented throughout the district.”

At the fair, Bloomfield Department of Health personnel provided printed information on a variety of concerns. In another area, children romped inside an inflatable playland while nearby, chef Joe Maida, of Maschios Food Service, offered a sample breakfast. It consisted of two grains and one-half cup of fruit — the grains were contained in a pastry while the fruit was a container of juice. Both items were colorfully packaged.

These packages were to be made available from hallway kiosks so children could “grab and go” to their class where they would eat. The Partners of Health Foundation grant would pay for the kiosks. Maida said milk would also be part of the meal. Other breakfasts might have, in some combination, chicken taco, yogurt, fruit parfait, and mashed potatoes, among other foods, he said.

Maya Lordo, a Bloomfield assistant health officer and health-education coordinator, said a healthy breakfast was important to get the day going.
“We are also trying to create a community understanding that proper nutritional needs is a way to a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “We would like to create an environment where healthy living is an easy choice.”

Parents must enroll their child into the program. A table of laptops, with assistants on hand, was set up at the fair. Baxter was enthusiastic about the program.

“Having a balanced breakfast will boost self-esteem,” she said. “By not coming to school hungry, students can concentrate on their studies by taking the absence of breakfast out of the equation.”

The bill signed by the governor had numerous sponsors, including Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, D-28th District, who represents Bloomfield.