Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2014

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Congresswoman renews push for ‘Weekends without Hunger’

Dina Titus speaks during a meeting with the Las Vegas Sun editorial board on January 5, 2010.

Dina Titus speaks during a meeting with the Las Vegas Sun editorial board on January 5, 2010.

Congresswoman Dina Titus is renewing her fight to help feed needy schoolchildren on weekends.

Backed by nearly three dozen Las Vegas chefs, the Nevada Democrat on Thursday morning began her latest push for her Weekends Without Hunger bill, an updated version of a failed proposal she originally introduced 2 1/2 years ago. The bill aims to provide funds to make nutritional meals available on weekends to poor students.

While the bill would provide funding for pilot programs nationwide, Titus said her goal was to provide additional help to the 55 percent of students in Clark County schools who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

"That number shows just how close many students are to going hungry," Titus said this morning during a news conference at the Boys and Girls Club in Las Vegas. "But when they go home for the weekend, or for an extended holiday, they don't get meals, or at least nutritious meals."

Titus sponsored a similar bill in 2010 that passed the House twice but failed to gain Senate approval. Although the bill is co-sponsored by four Democrats, she expects more bipartisan support this time around.

"No matter what party you belong to, you have to care about the children," said Titus, who voters returned to Congress for a second term in November 2012 after she was defeated in 2010.

The bill would establish a five-year pilot program to provide funds to bolster “backpack meal” programs being provided by groups such as the Three Square Food Bank in Las Vegas. The funding would apply only to programs during the school year, not the summer months. The secretary of agriculture would oversee how the money is spent.

While Titus pointed to the 170,000 Clark County schoolchildren who would qualify for the meals, Three Square is currently only serving some 5,000 students.

"We're hearing reports from the schools about kids out there digging through the trash for food," said Brian Burton, Three Square president and CEO. "So the need is there. Right now, we depend on money from a handful of philanthropists for our program, but we're not getting close to meeting the need."

Among those backing Titus at the news conference was Strip chef Rick Moonen, who runs RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay.

"Chefs are very giving people," Moonen said. "I have a privilege of being able to supply high-end food on the Las Vegas Strip. But for every dollar given to Three Square, they can provide three meals. I can't do that at my restaurant."

Moonen said children who can't eat can't learn.

"They will remember this and look back and say, 'I was part of a community that cared enough to make sure I was taken care of at school,'" Moonen said. "This will help more children finish school and become successful. I hope they'll end up looking for a job in my restaurant."

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