The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved establishing a "universal meal pilot program" for food-insecure children in county schools.
The program, brought forward by supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Joe Simitian, allows for $8 million spending over four years, at $2 million per year, for schools with over 70 percent of food-insecure students.
Eligible schools have to apply to take part in the program.
The funding could serve an estimated 12,000 students with 3 million meals per year at a cost to the county of about $0.60 per meal, according to the program referral.
Ellenberg said Feb. 11 that the program will provide "significant health and academic benefits."
"Santa Clara County has a critical need for this type of support, particularly given the high cost of living impacting school budgets and family food insecurity for our residents," Ellenberg told the board. "It is my hope the administration can partner with schools and hunger advocates to establish a robust, well-evaluated and replicable pilot in our community that can serve as a model for others."
According to the county, about 68 percent of the county's thousands of students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches actually get their discounted lunches, and only 35 percent participate in free or reduced-priced breakfast programs.
This means 30,000 eligible students don't get inexpensive or free meals they could get at lunchtime, and 55,000 students don't get school breakfast when they can, according to the county.
"Addressing childhood hunger is critical to supporting healthy children's growth and development, achieving goals in school readiness and stabilizing families across our community," Ellenberg said.
Tracy Weatherby, vice president of strategy and advocacy for Second Harvest of Silicon Valley -- the organization that partnered with the county to implement the pilot program -- urged the board's support for the pilot program before it passed.
"We live with the food insecurity in our community everyday," Weatherby said. "We think that one in three children are at risk of food insecurity in our communities, and we think that school meals are one of the most crucial tools to make sure those kids are ready to learn and thrive."
According to the county, 17 school districts in the county make up 84 schools eligible for the pilot program, which will run from fall of this year through the spring of 2024.
"We want to build community," Weatherby said. "All the kids should be eating together all the time, everyday. This is how we build countries and communities."