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by Abigail Van Buren

School Breakfast Programs Give Kids a Needed Boost

DEAR ABBY: I am a grandmother who volunteers in a third-grade class. Last week, a child I was reading to turned to me and said, "Grandma, have you ever been so hungry that you couldn't play at recess?" It broke my heart that an 8-year-old girl could get her brother and herself off to school, but not have food for breakfast.

Of course, our elementary school has a free breakfast program. The irony is that some parents would rather send their children to school hungry than sign them up.

Unfortunately, many children complain of hunger during the school day. My teachers and I have started a classroom pantry so we can provide a nutritious snack to any student who, because of hunger, struggles to read, solve an arithmetic problem or play actively on the school grounds.

Abby, please let parents know that their children need nourishment in the mornings. Most schools provide breakfast and lunch for free or at reduced rates. Being well-fed will help their children succeed in school. -- VOLUNTEER GRANDMA

DEAR GRANDMA: I'm pleased to print your letter. Everyone should know that breakfast has long been considered the most important meal of the day. Schools should remind parents that nutrition programs are offered to students who need them.

If parents fail to sign up their children for breakfasts or lunches out of some misguided sense of pride, the teacher or principal of the school should make sure the parents are aware of the importance of the program. If that fails, then child protective services should be informed of the plight of truly neglected children.

DEAR ABBY: I am an atheist. I keep this to myself most of the time because of people's misunderstanding and fear. Over the years, a number of people I cared about drifted away once I told them about my beliefs.

I'd like to share with you and your readers what I do and do not believe in:

(1) I believe in the Golden Rule.

(2) I believe each human life is precious; indeed, all life is precious.

(3) Terrible things have been done in the name of religion, but in the end, I believe much good has come to the world because of religious beliefs.

(4) I don't believe in God or any other supernatural being, including the devil.

(5) I believe with death we cease to exist. Therefore, while we are here on Earth it is our job to treat each other and ourselves with care and do as little damage as possible.

America is based on freedom of -- or freedom from -- religion. It's uncomfortable feeling that I continually need to conceal my true beliefs from others.

Thank you for listening. -- STILL A GOOD PERSON

DEAR STILL: As recent events have proven, many evil acts have been done in the name of religion. While atheists are in the minority, you owe no one an apology for your feelings; they are your own. We live in a free country, and freedom means being free to believe what you want to believe.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $10 (U.S. funds)

to: Dear Abby -- Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111; (816) 932-6600