Op-ed: Chef Nick Elmi praises a ‘breakfast hero’ helping PA schoolkids combat hunger

A new state program will provide $900,000 in morning meal funding.

Chef Nick Elmi

Chef Nick Elmi

Danya Heninger

Bringing great food to my community is my pride and joy. As a chef, I spend countless hours considering how best to prepare and showcase ingredients to provide my guests with a dining experience they’ll remember.

Today, I want to tell you about someone who has worked just as tirelessly to make sure his students get a healthy meal at school each and every morning.

His name is Martin Lorenzo, and he is my breakfast hero.

As director of food service at the Gateway School District in Allegheny County, Mr. Lorenzo knows that well-nourished kids do better in the classroom. That’s why he’s been determined to make sure as many kids as possible get a healthy breakfast each morning.

Much like I need good ingredients to do French cooking right, kids need proper fuel to learn and grow. A healthy school breakfast is as important to students as a textbook or a pencil. Yet three out of four public school teachers say students regularly come to school hungry, according to anti-hunger nonprofit Share Our Strength.

When kids aren’t getting the consistent nutrition they need, it impacts their health and growth, and has negative consequences on their ability to learn and engage at school. Food provides the fuel they need to succeed.

Alongside the dedicated food and nutrition team at Gateway, Mr. Lorenzo has worked with school staff and leadership to take creative approaches to serve breakfast during the school day, making it possible to reach many more kids in need of a morning meal. He works hard to make food fun and he knows kids like options — like having the chance to pick up food from a grab ‘n’ go cart in the hallway or at a second-chance cafeteria service held after the morning rush.

Mr. Lorenzo is also very thoughtful about nutrition; he sees his job not just as feeding kids while they’re at school, but also teaching kids how to think about food outside of school.

I know the joy that food can bring, and love watching my kids try new foods — even if they aren’t always as adventurous as I might like! As a dad, it’s unthinkable to me that in this land of plenty, there are still kids going without.

Feeding a child breakfast means giving them a chance at success. When kids have consistent, reliable access to school breakfast, it helps them learn more, stay healthier, and grow up stronger.

Please join me in thanking the everyday heroes like Mr. Lorenzo, who make sure no kid goes hungry in America, starting with their community.

Pennsylvania schools have until Friday, April 6, to apply for funding to start or expand breakfast programs under a new $900,000 grant initiative offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Funds may be used for equipment, staff training, learning, building support, marketing or other. More information is available here.

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