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July 09, 2019

Trone hears about ‘crucial’ child-hunger needs in Washington County

Credit: Herald Mail-Media, Dan Dearth

U.S. Congressman David Trone headed a roundtable in Hagerstown on Tuesday morning to discuss ways to improve feeding hungry children.

The freshman Democrat said 47% of children in Washington County are so poor that they qualify to receive free meals in school or meals at a reduced price.

“The numbers are pretty mind-boggling,” he said.


The roundtable was held at the Children in Need building at 131 W. North Ave.

Trone said the event was part of his Summer Meal Tour to address the needs of hungry children in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District.

“It’s absolutely crucial that we take care of these kids, so they have food,” he said. “If they don’t have food, they’re not going to learn. Education can never happen on an empty belly.”

Trone said that during the school year, 22 million children across the country are eligible to receive free meals or meals at a reduced price.

But only 3.7 million of them, he said, take advantage of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Summer Food Service Program when they’re not in school.

“That’s part of my job to publicize the issue of hungry children — children in need,” he said. “… The program is broken and it’s not going to the kids.”

Trone listened to several Washington County Public Schools officials who talked about the problems they face feeding needy children.

Mike Embly, the supervisor of food and nutrition services at Washington County Public Schools, said one of those problems is trying to get food to children in rural areas.

He said the school system has seven food trucks that serve breakfast and lunch five days a week during the summer. The problem is that the trucks primarily serve urban sites in and around Hagerstown.

Last year, a truck was sent to feed children in rural Hancock, Embly said. But that location was taken off the list because many of the parents didn’t have a vehicle to drive their children to the meal site.

“That was the downfall,” he said.

Embly said the school system has been using the trucks for the past eight years and gets reimbursed by the federal government for the meals and labor.

It costs about $10 a day to feed breakfast and lunch to a single child.

“We follow a meal pattern that the federal government sets,” he said.

He added that breakfasts typically include cereal and juice. Lunch menus vary from pizza to chicken patties and turkey sandwiches.


The children are required to eat the food on-site, Embly said, to ensure they don’t take it home to share with someone else.

Lorraine Peggues, a resident of the Jonathan Street Neighborhood, said the program feeds her six grandchildren.

“It’s so nice to have something like this,” she said. “We really appreciate it.”

Trone said he plans to share what he learned on Tuesday with his colleagues on the Education and Labor Committee.

He said part of the problem is that the parents don’t fill out the paperwork to enroll their children — whether it’s out of shame or they’re under the grip of drugs and don’t care.

Officials need to find a way, he said, to make parents complete the forms to ensure that their children get fed.

“It’s the kid that’s paying the price,” Trone said. “It has to be mandated. Everyone has to fill the damn form out.”

Trone also held similar events Tuesday in Frederick and Montgomery counties.