A federal grant this coming school year will offer Carlisle area students some food for thought on better nutrition.

Hamilton Elementary School has been awarded a $23,977.50 grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. A program goal is to create a healthier school environment by expanding the variety of fruits and vegetables that students experience. The hope is to increase consumption and positively affect students’ present and future health.

Program funding priority is given to schools where a large percentage of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. At 75 percent, Hamilton has the highest poverty rate among schools in Cumberland County, Principal Monique Wallace said.

Each school week from early September to early May, Hamilton students will be treated to samples of different fruits and vegetables, Wallace said. Samples will be served as that day’s snack in the morning or afternoon depending on when the student has his or her lunch period.

An outside supplier will deliver the samples to the school in the morning, either as pre-packaged single servings or in bulk for the cafeteria staff to break down into servings for distribution to the classrooms, Wallace said. There will be three to four deliveries per week – each featuring a different fruit or vegetable.

The selection of items will vary from the commonplace such as apples and snap beans to the exotic such as blood oranges and jicama – a root crop grown in Mexico. Each fruit and vegetable will be prepared as slices to be eaten uncooked by the students.

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Along with the samples, the program provides classroom materials teachers can use to instruct students on how and where the food is grown, how it can be prepared and what nutritional value the fruit or vegetable offers.

“Sometimes they come with activity sheets,” said Wallace, adding how the idea is to get students talking about the taste of food and the benefits of healthier eating. In the process, they learn lessons through discussion and vocabulary building.

State Rep. Barb Gleim, R-Carlisle, announced the grant award in a recent news release that mentioned how the program was first implemented in Pennsylvania in 2004 and then expanded to all 50 states in 2008.

“It is important to help our school children develop healthy eating habits in their formative years so that foods rich in vitamins and antioxidants become a natural part of their daily diets,” Gleim said. “Good nutrition is essential for children’s brain development.”

Though Hamilton did not receive the grant in 2018-2019, it has been a past recipient of program funding for at least two prior school years, Wallace said. “The kids missed it last year. They were asking about it. It was fantastic for the students.

“The kids are great about always trying it,” she added. “Sometimes they’re surprised about what they like or don’t like but, in general, they prefer fruit.”

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Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.