School lunch programs reveal rising poverty in suburban areas

The smiling faces of children at Bonjour Elementary in Lenexa seem much the same from year to year — bright and eager to learn.

But beneath those innocent smiles, Principal Alejandro Schlagel understands there’s a deeper truth. More of his students are poorer in a suburban community considered by many to be economically affluent.

Four years ago, the rate of Bonjour students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches was 32.5 percent. Today it is almost 50 percent. The largest increase — 13 percentage points — occurred in the last two years.

This Johnson County school isn’t alone. The recession is hitting many suburban communities hard, and some schools are seeing large increases in students applying for free or reduced-price lunches, which is one measure of poverty.

In Liberty, more students are showing up for breakfast and heading home on Fridays with backpacks filled with food to help feed them over the weekend. In the Park Hill School District in Kansas City North, a free clothing center is experiencing unprecedented use from district students in need.

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