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Amazon Works to End Stigma of “Free and Reduced” Meals at School

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Laura Hatch, Director of National Partnerships for Share our Strength, talks to students about nutrition. Credits: Amazon
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Roebling Elementary School students and Amazon employees participate in a trivia contest. Credits: Amazon
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Amazon employees were proud to be "Banistas" for the day, handing out 500 bananas. Credits: Amazon
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Dallyss Williams, 7, a second grader at Roebling Elementary School, knows the answer to this trivia question: How many seeds in a strawberry? ​ Credits: Amazon
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Dan Moore, (left) the general manager of the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Florence, addresses students with Laura Hatch, director of national partnerships, Share Our Strength. Credits: Amazon
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Owen Havens, 8, a third grader at Roebling Elementary School, throws up his hands, following a question posed during a trivia contest about nutrition. Credits: Amazon
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FLORENCE, NJ – There is a widely unknown problem in schools all over America: a stigma among many children who are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Rather than face the peer pressure of receiving breakfast or lunch through this federal program, many choose to remain hungry.

To help eliminate the practice, Amazon has partnered with Share our Strength’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign. Amazon’s funding will support access to healthy breakfasts to more than 29,000 students across America, equal to 3.1 million breakfasts.

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One grateful recipient of the program is Roebling Elementary School in Florence, where students were welcomed Friday by about 20 local Amazon employees, on hand to discuss the importance of nutrition, as part of the company’s national “Rise & Smile” campaign.

Last month, Amazon donated two meal carts, which serve both hot and cold meals, to the school.

Now, when students get off the bus and enter the gym at 8 a.m., they are welcomed by delicious aromas from a cart brimming with hot and cold foods, as well as plenty of fruit.

Students eligible for free or reduced lunch can help themselves to items on the cart with their friends, with no indication of who is participating in the hunger relief program and who is paying full price. Another station is at the front entrance of the school, for students who walk or are dropped off. Payment for breakfasts are on an electronic account, which parents/guardians fund on an ongoing basis.

Amazon hopes this program will help solve the problem for the school of 448 students, of which 138 are eligible for free meals, and another 19 can receive meals at a reduced price, under guidelines the federal government sets.

Roebling Elementary rolls out the carts beginning 7:45 a.m. when the first students arrive. There are plenty of options, from French toast sticks to pancakes to other fan favorites that encourage kids to take the time for breakfast before the homeroom bell rings at 8:20 a.m., said Gail Wolsh, the school’s nutrition director.

“Before we had these carts, we didn’t have the ability to provide a hot breakfast to these children,” she said. “It was very sad. Every child deserves a hot breakfast.”

The grades K-3 school on Hornberger Avenue is one of 100 schools selected for a grant, being distributed nationally to elementary schools within areas where Amazon employees live. The Roebling school is about two miles from Amazon’s fulfillment center in Florence.

The Florence fulfillment center is eager to support the community, with “Amazonians” participating in the local parade, donating time to the local food bank and providing materials for the local women’s shelter. Amazon works to be on hand for local needs, such as when the Florence Township Memorial High School needed new graphing calculators for a science classroom.

“We are a very large building in a very small, tight-knit community,” said Dan Moore, general manager of the Florence fulfillment center, who was on hand for the “Breakfast Bananza” on Friday at Roebling Elementary. “We view it as our obligation to make a positive impact on the community. Today is an ideal example of how and why Amazon gives back.”

Laura Hatch, Director of National Partnerships for the “No Kid Hungry” campaign, said Share Our Strength was honored to play a major role in the Amazon program. She visited three classrooms with the Amazon team on Friday, distributing bananas and applauding, as Moore coordinated nutrition trivia contests with the children in second and third grades.

“Students who start their day with breakfast are more focused and ready to learn,” Hatch said.

Christopher Butler, principal of Roebling Elementary School, said it was great to have a corporate partner like Amazon take an active role in the school, noting many of the children’s parents are Amazon employees.

“We know how important breakfast is to student academic performance,” Butler said. “These carts are a great way for all our kids to `grab and go’ a healthy meal. We are very thankful to Amazon, which is vested in this school and this community.”

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