CCJ Blog




Michigan Kids Should Take Advantage of Summer Meal Programs
By Saginaw City Councilman Demond Tibbs

There is nothing worse than seeing young people fall on the wrong side of the law. In my years working with the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office, I’ve seen it happen more times than I would have liked. The most obvious reasons are usually at play. Lack of supervision and guidance, poor grades at school and peer pressure from the wrong groups. This is why I’ve always been supportive of afterschool programs, and I was pleased to learn that Michigan will have more Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) sites available this year, including more in my city.

School districts, faith-based groups and other non-profits will be hosting summer meal programs. Most sites will offer meals and activities starting around lunchtime, though some breakfast and morning activities. These programs offer a safe, supervised space to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble and many also offer enrichment activities to help prevent learning loss over the summer. Sites conduct science experiments, issue reading contests and offer art lessons. Some sites even take field trips. Here in Saginaw, trips might include a visit to the Children’s Zoo, Hoyt Library and other cultural institutions. Activities will vary depending on location.

Most feeding sites are considered “open” where students 18 and under can attend and receive free meals without an individual application. Meals are healthy and include components from all of the food groups. Funding for SFSP meals is administered nationally by the US Department of Agriculture and statewide though the Michigan Department of Education.

Everyone can help keep our state’s children busy, fed, and safe this summer by getting the word out about local meal sites. A full list of sites is available online at: When a child eats at a summer feeding site they have a safe and supervised place to eat, stay, and learn. When children have enough to eat and fun things to do over the summer, there is also less stress on the family unit. Less trouble at home often is correlated with less trouble on the streets and more success in the classroom.

So I call on everyone to share the site list with the families in your neighborhood and organizations that you are connected with. Look for “Meet Up and Eat Up” signage at local schools and community centers, which indicate that summer meals are available, and check the site list website for updates. Families can also dial 211 for a listing of local summer food sites and meal times.

Child Nutrition Programs like these keep students at their school desks, rather than as a case on a Prosecutor’s desk. Connecting children with summer meal sites ensures that they are not only nourished and supervised during the summer months, but that they are also set up for year round success. 

Demond Tibbs is a former prosecutor for the City of Saginaw and currently serves on the Saginaw City Council.

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Summer Food Participation Grows Across the Nation: Momentum Signals Progress and Outlines a Path for Growth
By Kate Sims

The summer of 2013 was an encouraging one for the Summer Nutrition Programs. Last summer marked the first significant increase in the number of low-income students participating in summer meal programs in a decade.  A new report released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) finds that summer meal participation nationally reached nearly three million students on an average day in July of 2013, up 161,000 children or 5.7 percent from 2012.  

This national increase in children eating summer meals provides welcome momentum for the Summer Nutrition Programs, and a safety net for struggling families. Each year, when the school year comes to a close, millions of low-income children lose access to the school meals they rely on during the academic year. Providing adequate nutrition during the summer, along with structured activities often held in conjunction with the meals served, helps prevent learning loss and allows students to stay healthy and active so they return to school in the fall ready to learn.

Even though the summer is about to start, there’s still a lot that can be done to build on the progress that’s been made and accelerate it even more. This week – June 2 to 6 – marks USDA’s Summer Food Awareness Week, which aims to raise the visibility of the program nationwide. USDA continues to promote the program through its “Summer Food Rocks” campaign, including the launch of a free web-based application that features a site locator and search tool, and works on devices such as iPads, iPhones, Blackberrys, and Androids.

ELECTED OFFICIALS: Everyone can help increase awareness and participation in summer meals. Elected officials can speak up about Summer Nutrition Programs and get the word out to their constituents by posting information about summer food on their websites or sharing in their newsletters. They can visit summer meal sites in their districts, and work with partners to increase the number of sites where children can go for summer meals.

SCHOOLS: Everyone can help increase awareness and participation in summer meals. School districts can sponsor summer meal sites at their schools throughout the summer, open these sites to the surrounding communities, work with partners in the community to ensure there are enough sites, or even contract with local sponsors to vend meals to them. Another important action school districts can take is to let parents know about the Summer Nutrition Programs and where nearby sites are located so that they can take their children to them.

PARKS: Everyone can help increase awareness and participation in summer meals. Local parks departments can become sponsors of the programs and set up their meal sites at their parks and local community centers.  Parks are great places for summer meal sites because they provide outdoor space for physical activities and a variety of enrichment programs. 

Kate Sims is the Child Nutrition Policy Analyst for the Food Research Action Center (FRAC).

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School Breakfast Makes a Big Difference in Student Performance
By Marybeth Laisure

All students deserve a healthy start to their day, and having a nutritious breakfast is just the ticket! Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day…it boost s learning and productivity throughout the day. Teachers tell their students to eat a healthy breakfast every day before school because they know that children who do are more alert and attentive in class and they usually have better test scores. Breakfast skippers are more likely to inattentive, sluggish and make lower grades. Breakfast “skippers” are more likely to eat less nutritious food and give into junk food, and crave a sugar fix because they can’t focus and have the empty stomachs to prove it.

Most working parents are getting their children up and ready for school, and at the same time trying to get themselves ready for work. It’s easy for breakfast to be overlooked. That’s why breakfast at school is such a benefit for parents. They know their children will receive a healthy, balanced and affordable meals. There are several options for schools to serve breakfast. The traditional method of serving meals is to do so in the cafeteria, prior to the school bell ringing. Breakfast in the Classroom is a popular new method of serving meals, where students eat breakfast in the classroom at the beginning of the day. This helps foster a sense of community, particularly at younger grade levels. Older students, particularly those in high school, gravitate toward Grab-N-Go breakfast, where they can pick up their breakfast package and eat when and where they want with friends, within school guidelines. For schools that open very early, another option is Breakfast after First Period, also known as Second Chance Breakfast.  Students eat breakfast during a break in the morning, usually between 9:00a-10:00a, and it’s typically served in the Grab-n-Go style.

Although the traditional is most often used, it may be inconvenient for many students who could utilize a healthy breakfast start.  Students running late, or wanting to hang with friends, or just don’t want the stigma of eating in the cafeteria, all miss this breakfast opportunity.

For schools wanting to boost their child participation rates in the SBP, thereby increasing their reimbursement rates, they may want to consider an alternative breakfast option mentioned above.  These options can dramatically increase participation numbers and students look forward to having a healthy breakfast.

And does it matter what children eat for breakfast? It sure does! There are certain “brain foods” that contain nutrients that help improve and maintain focus and improve brain health.  Whole-grains such as whole wheat breads, oatmeal, eggs, dairy, berries, apples and even peanut better are all good sources of “brain food”.

The bottom line is this: Children need to have a breakfast every day, and if your school has a breakfast program, take advantage of it knowing your child will start their day off ready to learn with a nutritious boost.

Food Research and Action Center; "Breakfast for Learning" Fall 2011
United States Department of Agriculture "Energize Your Day! Eat School Breakfast"

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CCJ to host Affordable Care Act Sign Up Session
By Center for Civil Justice

Center for Civil Justice and the Mid-Michigan Community Action Agency are hosting an Affordable Care Act/"Obamacare" information and application session on March 24th, 2014 at 5:30 pm in the Hoyt Library, 505 Janes Avenue, Saginaw, MI 48607.

The session is open to anyone who is interested in learning about becoming insured and will include one-on-one help signing up for health coverage and subsidies. The Healthcare Marketplaces – where individuals can compare and purchase private insurance plans – will be covered, along with the Healthy Michigan Plan for low income individuals.

The Marketplace offers Health Insurance subsidies to households with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level (roughly $78,000 a year for a family of 3). The Healthy Michigan Plan will cover low-income individuals under 133% of the federal poverty level – roughly $26,000 a year or $2,200 a month for a family of 3 - who are under age 65 and not eligible for Medicare.

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Summer Meals Are Just Around That Frozen Corner
By Marybeth Laisure

It’s time to think about summer…well, at least summer meals!    I know there is still 4 feet of snow on the ground, below 20 degree temperatures, but…now is the time for potential sponsors to think about getting their applications into the state to serve summer meals.   School is about to end in several months, and many of these children who receive a free and reduced-priced lunch may not have access to a healthy lunch on a daily basis.

Most of us cannot imagine what it would be like o go hungry, yet in Michigan it happens every day to our children.  Currently, 25 percent of Michigan’s children live in poverty and their families struggle with hunger every day.   In the summer of 2013, 3,3890,484 meals were served to children - a 9 percent increase over 2012.  That represents in dollars, $9,839,100 coming into the state.

Federal Child Nutrition programs such as the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is a food program that provides funding for meals and snacks served to children age 18 and younger during the summer months.  These programs were designed so that low-income children have access to meals that they rely on during the school year.

A sponsor can feed children at numerous sites throughout their community.  Sites can include schools, community centers, YMCA’s, Boys & Girls Clubs, parks, faith-based organizations, low-income housing and many other places where children go for activities during the summer.  A site must be located where at least half of the children in the geographic area are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, or where at least 50 percent of the children participating in the program are individually determined to be free or reduced-price eligible.

The SFSP grant is administered by the Michigan Department of Education and will be available on-line beginning March 1st, trainings are scheduled during the months of March and April and the application is due to the Michigan Department of Education by May 1st.

If you are interest in becoming a sponsor or site,  or would just like more information about the Summer meals program, please contact Marybeth Laisure, Child Nutrition Program Coordinator for the Center for Civil Justice at: (989) 545-96571.  Or contact the Michigan Department of Education at

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Breakfast for children - is more than great! - it's essential for starting their day!
By Marybeth Laisure

More and more research proves that eating a healthy breakfast not only makes you feel good, it’s a jump start for brain functions.  After a night of rest and “fasting,” the body is ready to be recharged and refueled.  Eating a nutritious breakfast is a kick start to a person’s metabolism.  This is especially important for children to help fight obesity, and increase their ability to concentrate, learn and think at their best throughout the day.

Breakfast skippers are more likely to be inattentive, sluggish. They may exhibit behavioral problems and perhaps have lower test scores.  They may crave mid-morning sugar snacks because they can’t make it until lunch. These “skippers” can begin to set themselves up for binging and possibly eating disorders and problems as they begin to grow older. By making the best choices now, they can avoid a lifetime of health issues.

But not every breakfast is best. Those sugary cereals and breakfast pastries are not a healthy choice to have. Neither are pancakes or waffles drowned in high-sugar syrup and lots of high-fat butter. Better choices for breakfast are: a breakfast burrito on a whole-wheat tortilla; Oatmeal with raisins and nuts; whole grain bagels with peanut butter; or low-fat yogurt with blueberries and nuts. According to Dr. Sears in 2009 from The Terry Small Learning Institute, “A breakfast with the right balance of both stimulating and calming foods starts the child off with a brain that is primed to learn and emotions prepared to behave. Eating complex carbohydrates along with proteins helps to usher the amino acids from these proteins into the brain, so that the neurotransmitters can work better.”

Breakfast sets the pattern for healthy nutritious eating for a life time…let’s begin to help our children understand the importance of rising and shining with a healthy breakfast and not limp and be sluggish because they skipped breakfast!

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War on Poverty: 50th Anniversary
By Center for Civil Justice

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of President Johnson’s State of the Union Address in which he declared “War on Poverty.” While much progress has been made, there is still much work to do, particularly here in Michigan.

According to the US Census Bureau, the percentage of Americans living below the Federal Poverty Level between 2000 and 2012 grew by 3.7%, from 33.3 Million to 48.8 million persons. In Michigan, the percentage growth of persons living below poverty levels in the same time period has nearly doubled that of the national level. Michigan had increases of 7.3%, rising from 975,044 to 1,685,178 persons. The need for a social safety net is all too real for these Michiganders. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Medicaid are vital components of the effort to lift Michigan residents out of poverty.

Center for Civil Justice is proud to be a lead Anti-Poverty Advocate, both Statewide and in Mid-Michigan. Check out our "Current Issues" page for the most up-to-date information on our work. 

As we start 2014 and mark the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty, how will you fight poverty in your community? 

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Michigan League for Public Policy Releases Kids Count Report
By Center for Civil Justice

The latest Kids Count Report from the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) has been released and the results aren’t promising for Michigan’s children. Between 2005 and 2012, there was a 53% rise in the rate of children statewide who qualified for food assistance programs. One in three of these children (37%) live in families with incomes below 130% of the Federal Poverty Level. In Genesee County, 47.4% of children aged 0-5 are eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), one of the highest levels in the state. Fifty-five percent of Genesee County students are eligible for free or reduced price school meals. 

Rural Counties have also experienced high levels of child poverty, with three out of every five children in Roscommon and Lake Counties are eligible for food assistance. 
Center for Civil Justice supports continued funding for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) and School Meals (Afterschool, Summer, and Breakfast) as ways of combating youth poverty and hunger. 
“In order to end child hunger in particular, communities need to work together and tap into federal child nutrition programs such as the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP),” said Center for Civil Justice’s Child Nutrition Program Coordinator Marybeth Laisure. “The best part is they work! Children can receive healthy, nutritious meals all year long using federal funding. These programs are a great way community leaders can help combat child hunger and reverse some of the disturbing trends found in today’s report.”
Parents and guardians should contact their school district to verify school meal options. School administrators should contact the Center for Civil Justice or the Michigan Department of Education for information on starting Afterschool, Summer, and Breakfast meal programs.
Michigan League for Public Policy’s report has also tracked other child wellness factors, including education and family stability. Their full report can be found here:
MLPP’s data on Genesee County can be found here:
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Hunger Action Month
By Kimberlee Charchan

The Center for Civil Justice is joining Feeding America, food banks and other anti-hunger organizations throughout the country to recognize and support Hunger Action Month. During September we’re urging everyone to take action in their communities and create a lasting impact to help end hunger in this country.
More than one in five children in the U.S. face hunger according to a report from the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA). New USDA data released shows that people in more than one in eight households in Michigan struggled with hunger in 2010 to 2012. It’s time to take action.
Here are some suggestions on how to support Hunger Action Month:
-Organize a food drive to benefit a local food bank, food pantry, soup kitchen or shelter.
-Take the SNAP Challenge and find out what it’s like to live on $4.50 a day for food.
-Skip your fancy coffee for a week and donate that money to an anti-hunger charity or food bank.
-Educate yourself and your family and friends about hunger in your community.
-Volunteer your time at a local food bank, food pantry, soup kitchen or shelter.
 -Post a blog about hunger or write a letter to your editor.
-Donate a grocery store gift card to your local food bank.
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Senior Citizens Shy Away from Much-Needed food
By Kimberlee Charchan

The Good Hearts of Senior Citizens are keeping them away from much-needed food.

Picture an older woman, she walks a little slower, her eyes may not be as sharp as they used to be, her husband’s gone and now she’s on her own.   She could be your neighbor, a friend or a relative.   Like many seniors she probably has barely enough money to pay her bills, but she won’t ask for help and she sure won’t take any, especially if she thinks it’ll impact someone else in need.
“Fewer than 40 percent of eligible seniors in 2010 applied for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps),” says the legal director for the Food Research and Action Center, Ellen Vollinger.   “One of the misconceptions we hear commonly from the elderly is that they feel they don’t want to take away from someone else.” In reality, a person’s participation in the program doesn’t reduce the benefits available to others.
Seniors aren’t the only ones missing out on help. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that nearly 51 million Americans in 2010 qualified for SNAP, but only 38 million received benefits – about a quarter of eligible people didn’t apply.
“Some people don’t know they’re eligible, for others it’s difficult to navigate the process, for others it’s the stigma,” says Vollinger.
Seniors receiving Social Security benefits may also be reluctant to sign up because their monthly retirement benefits are counted as income, thereby reducing the amount of SNAP/food stamps they would receive each month. FRAC officials say people are less likely to apply for the program if their benefits are low.
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