SEATAC, Wash. In an effort to tackle hunger, the Highline School District has launched a program in which five schools offer students an afterschool meal, not just a snack.

Nearly 150 kids pack the cafeteria at Madrona Elementary School for the free meal.

Because 70 percent of the Highline School District qualifies for free or reduced meals, the district qualifies for a USDA program which is part of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. Students are served protein, grains, milk, fruits and vegetables after school is out.

Administrators say they see many working families who ve struggled during the tough economic times. Often, kids are going home to empty shelves.

There are studies that have shown hungry students can't learn. With good nutrition and healthy bodies, they concentrate better in school, said Chris Neal with the Highline School District Nutrition Services.

Students and parents say the free afterschool meal service has been invaluable.

If it wasn't for these free and reduced lunches, afterschool meals and backpack weekend food, a lot of these kids wouldn't make it, said parent Gerry Clift.

The district hopes to expand the afterschool meal program to more schools, as well as serving breakfast.

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