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Long Winter Freezes Food Supply for Struggling Families and Agencies

With a record 49 inches of snow this season, school closings in the area forced families and food banks to feed more people than ever before.

By Jimmy Hoover The organizations that help feed Washington, D.C.’s hungry faced more than their fair share of obstacles this year. In addition to a recovering economy, a sequester and the rising cost of living, many social service agencies—and the families that depend on them—grappled with an additional problem: 49 inches of snow. With this season’s snowfall at least twice above the regional average, according to, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) closed on six occasions, forcing many families to stretch their budgets to feed children who would otherwise receive meals at school. “At Bread for the City, we have been feeding more people this winter than we ever have before,” said Kristin Foti, the organization’s chief development officer. Among other services, Bread for the City provides Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligible families with a monthly bag consisting of nine meals. Foti said workers who do not receive paid time off are doubly hit by the lack of school lunches for their children on snow days, now having to pay for additional meals with a day’s less earnings. Coupled with the November budget cuts to D.C.’s SNAP benefits program, the snow days are just another factor that have sent more and more families to seek out the services of agencies. Seventy-six percent of all public school students in D.C. are eligible for the Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program, according to figures released by DCPS. The federally assisted meal program provides free or low-cost meals to students from low-income households. When schools are closed, there are no meals even for eligible students.

‘At Bread for the City, we have been feeding more people this winter than we ever have before.’

— Kristin Foti

In addition to wearing on family budgets, snow days stretch food agency resources as well. At Bread for The City, funds are dwindling fast. “We are over our food budget by over $30,000,” Foti said. D.C. Central Kitchen has taken a hit from the school closures as well. In the after school lunch program, the city uses federal funds to reimburse agencies that donate meals for students. DCCK– one of the largest participants in the program– donates 5,000 meals a day to the school system. Spokesman Paul Day said in an email that, because of the various closures, DCCK has seen $175,000 less in revenue from city reimbursements. But rather than trying to stave off tough winter seasons, D.C. social service agencies have sought to remedy what they consider to be a systemic failure through the D.C. Council. Last month, through the guidance of various organizations, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced a bill that would use recreation centers as food distributing hubs for students on snow days or other inclement weather. On March 18, Cheh’s office released a statement a day after the school system’s last closure. Cheh said that the absence of school meals when schools are closed is “especially problematic.” The legislation would task the Department of Parks and Recreation with overseeing the food distribution on these days. The bill does not give a plan for how the meals can be delivered when ice or snow has rendered streets unmanageable, and it does not address the issue of Afterschool Programs, which currently serve dinner to students at 94 of D.C.’s 119 schools. Communications Director Dylan Menguy, of the Capital Area Food Bank, the organization which claims to have “put the bug in the ear” of Cheh and bill co-sponsor David Grosso, says this would bring much needed change and that he feels good about its prospects. “We do have strong support on City Council and even beyond that,” Menguy said. “So, yes, we are hopeful.” Skyler McKinley contributed to this report.