& lt;a href=mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org & gt;By JoANNE VIVIANO & lt;/a & gt;
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
ASON BARNES WAS GOING for your basic mustache, but he got a bit more than he bargained for.
Actually, he resembled Fu Manchu, the mythical Asian character with the distinctive mustache.
The Mary Haddow Elementary School fourth-grader giggled as the glistening white mustache dripped down his cheeks Monday. He and schoolmates were creating milk mustaches with vanilla milkshakes in the school cafeteria just after eating their school breakfasts.
The event, sponsored by the nonprofit Children's Hunger Alliance, was aimed at creating awareness about school breakfasts.
"When you come in the morning and eat breakfast, it gives you energy to do work and think more," said fourth-grader Katie Horvath, who had cereal for breakfast, along with an apple tart.
"Sometimes, when we don't get to eat breakfast at home, we can come here and eat," said fourth-grader Cheyenne Cato.
In Youngstown, any public school pupil is eligible for a free school breakfast through a program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At Mary Haddow, about 190 of the school's roughly 250 pupils ate breakfast before they headed to class.
Why this is important
"Children who eat well learn more. Children who learn more earn more and become more productive citizens of society," said Charlie Kozlesky, the alliance's senior vice president of community engagement.
The alliance works with the state department of education, local school districts and community agencies to help provide USDA meals to youngsters across the state who otherwise might not get necessary meals.
Over the past 10 years, the number of pupils participating in school breakfast programs statewide has increased by 3.7 percent each year, he said. Over the last four years, the number has increased by 4 percent per year. Overall, about 12 percent of state pupils take part in the program.
In Youngstown, 41 percent of children eat a school breakfast as opposed to 31 percent three years ago.
Willaetta Thompson, who supervises breakfast and lunch programs for the district's elementary schools, said breakfast items include milk, juice, cereal, graham crackers, yogurt, toaster pastries, apple tarts, fortified doughnuts and peanut butter and jelly bars.
"Youngstown is doing a magnificent job," Kozlesky said. "I think they're really looking at the kids and trying to do what they can to make sure all children learn."
Pupils are offered free or reduced-price school meals based on family income. In districts where a high percentage of pupils fall into that category, all district pupils become eligible, regardless of income. In Youngstown, all pupils can eat a free breakfast.
"We know hunger is a deterrent to education, and hungry students can't learn," said Donna Smaldino, the district's chief of food services. Pupils leave home without breakfast not just in poor households but also in working households, she added.
Superintendent Benjamin L. McGee said there is a link between nutritious meals and achievement, and that hunger can be a distraction to learning.
On Monday, he joined representatives of the alliance, other school officials and state Rep. Daniel J. Sferra of Warren, D-64th, in trying on his own milk mustache. The creation of Mary Haddow Principal Kate Good received the most applause from pupils.