DERRY — Derry students could be enjoying a snack of fresh pineapple or avocado paid for by the federal government next year.
That's thanks to increased funding from a federal program.
Derry is one of 136 New Hampshire schools — and the only one in Southern New Hampshire — invited to participate in the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program. The program has $1.9 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Kathy Hodges, a state Department of Education program specialist for nutrition, said the program provides money for schools to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to give to students as snacks during the day.
"It doesn't replace regular meals, but is a supplement to get more fruits and fresh vegetables into the children," she said. "It gives them a chance to try new things. Some kids had never tried pineapple and star fruit and it's now their favorite."
This is the program's third year and because of the grant, there's more money to spend. Last year, 89 schools participated. The state received $1.34 million in funding for the program last year. This year, the program will reach 136 schools, affecting about 35,000 students.
Only elementary schools with a high percentage of students in the National School Lunch Program, which provides reduced and free school lunches to students in need, qualify. For the 2009-2010 school year, about 23 percent of Derry students were eligible for reduced/free lunch program.
"We start with offering automatically with schools that have 50 percent of students getting free or reduced lunch, and work our way down until we've used up all the funding," Hodges said. "The next year, starting July 1, we're able to offer to schools 33 percent and above."
She said the Derry School District is new this year because of the lower threshold.
Derry School District food service director Susan Boroskas said the program is in the works. "It still has to be approved by the administration," she said. "There's no guarantee yet."
Most other local schools just don't qualify, including Salem School District, according to Barbara Schultz, director of food service there.
"Right now, Salem is only at 17 percent of students on free and reduced lunch," she said, "which is a good thing. People are working."
Nancy Faucon, Londonderry School District food service director said the district is ineligible. Only 10 percent of Londonderry students receive free and reduced lunch. But the school has created its own program that mimics the USDA-funded one.
"I provide the vegetables and they eat them in the classroom the first Thursday of the month," she said. "There's no funding, it's coming out of the lunch budget."
Faucon said the program is a great idea, so they've copied it. Wednesday, the kids all tried raw sugar snap peas.
"They were very excited and eager to try them," she said. "In the past, we did spinach in a salad and steamed with lemon juice, we did a broccoli cheddar soup, cauliflower, avocados and sweet potatoes. Some of them had never had the vegetables we were trying and didn't have them at home."
Hodges said some schools do turn down the offer, because of restrictions that come with the funding. School districts must spend the money specifically on fresh produce and also educate the students on what they're eating.
"The education portion can be as small as learning the nutrients included in a pineapple, the geography class researching where pineapples are grown, or an art class drawing a basket of grapes and bananas, and then eating the fruit," she said. "It can be incorporated into any curriculum."
The program reimburses schools for 100 percent of the costs.
"If you spend $100 on apples, you get $100 back, plus the cost of serving and prepping those apples," Hodges said. "So, the operating labor is included."
Sanborn, Pelham and Windham school districts also do not qualify for the program.
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