Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
The Government, through the Education Ministry and Ministry of Social Security, is currently saddled with a heavy financial burden to provide at least one meal per day to hungry children within the island's public school system.
For this year, the Government has budgeted $4 billion to feed public school students, 30 per cent of whom often count the State-sponsored meal services their only chance to eat.
Addressing members of the media and stakeholders last week, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites said many of the children, especially at the primary levels, were eating only half of the meal at school while taking home the other half for dinner.
"You will see from the progress report that we have extended the school-feeding programme. We feel that we have thousands of early-childhood students who are coming to school hungry. The estimate is more than 30 per cent," said Thwaites.
"We understand that in these hard times, one third of the daily diets of the children at the primary level is simply not enough. We see students, not one, plenty of them, wrapping up piece of the bulla or piece of the lunch to carry home," added Thwaites.
lunch from path
Those currently being fed include 136,000 children who get meals through Nutrition Products Limited; 175,000 across all school types who get cooked lunches; and a further 211,000 who get Programme for the Advancement Through Health and Education nutritional support.
Currently, 5,000 of the students getting nutritional support from the State are in early-childhood institutions, with 206,000 in primary, all-age, and secondary schools.
Nutrition Products Limited has been given a further $66 million to provide breakfast for an additional 3,740 basic schoolchildren in St Thomas, Clarendon, and St Catherine, who will join the programme in the Easter term in 2014.
In addition, a pilot breakfast programme was also implemented in 37 schools in the Corporate Area and included 8,156 students.
That meal is supported by locally produced foods such as ripe bananas, plantains, potatoes, carrots, and liquid eggs.
And as the requests for help come fast and furious, the ministry disclosed that it also provided support for a breakfast programme in St Elizabeth involving 17 schools and benefiting 252 students.
In a move that is expected to support Jamaican farmers, Thwaites said the basic-school pilot would utilise local produce from the local agro industry.
Bananas are to be used for baked products and discussions are under way for sausage or chicken to minimise the use of imported chicken back, corn beef, and mackerel.