Witnesses to Hunger members Rachel Schmidt and Kim Hart.
Nina Stanley is a teacher’s aide at Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy in the Hill. She sees lots of kids in the cafeteria come back asking for a second breakfast and a second lunch.
“They’re not picky,” she said. “They even eat vegetables. There’s a lot of hunger out there.”
Kim Hart went hungry herself once, along with her son. They had to avail themselves of food pantries and soup kitchens. “At a certain age, he wouldn’t go, because he was embarrassed. I am truly a witness to hunger.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro with New Haven and Hamden Mayors Harp and Leng, and other officials.
Those two women, members of the advocacy group Witnesses To Hunger told their stories at a Monday morning press conference formally to kick off New Haven’s and Hamden’s Free Summer Meals Program.
Their blue-shirted group along with about 50 other volunteers had come out in force Saturday distributing flyers in Newhallville and other “food-insecure’ areas of the city.
Those flyers contained info about the 70-plus meal sites — schools, camps, churches, and mobile units throughout New Haven and Hamden — where this summer from June 24 through Aug. 16, any kid age 18 and under will be able to get a nutritious breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Billy Bromage of Witnesses to Hunger and the Hamden Community Development Manager Adam Sendroff were at pains to point out that no ID or paperwork of any kind will be asked for.
If you’re 18 years or younger, and you’re hungry, that’s all that’s required.
Wintesses to Hunger Billy Bromage, Shannon Smith, Bridgette Williamson, Junie Cullum, Kim Hart, and Rachel Schmidt.
The idea is to make it as easy as possible for people to participate, said Bromage, especially for undocumented people. To locate sites, you can call 2-1-1, text CT meals to 877877, or check the CTSummerMeals website.
A No-Brainer For The Developing Brain
In addition to the moral imperatives of ending hunger, the idea behind the program, which had its origins in the War on Poverty of the late 1960s, is to provide children with access to nutritious food beyond the school year. At least half of the city’s schoolchildren qualify for free meals. In some neighborhoods the number is much higher.
Lack of access to healthy food exacerbates summer learning loss, which is often referred to as the “summer slide.” It contributes to children eating junk food, obesity, and other factors that contribute in turn to the achievement gap.
“Nutrition is critical for physical and cognitive development,” said Hamden Schools Superintendent Jody Goeler. “It’s common sense,” backed up, he added, by many studies.
“When kids have proper nutrition, the summer slide doesn’t occur,” said New Haven Schools Superintendent Carol Birks.
“We have not only an achievement gap; we have a hunger gap. Until we resolve that, we’ll always have an achievement gap,” added Goeler.
Last year 195,000 meals were served during the eight-week summer period in New Haven and 12,000 in Hamden. Officials said they expect to serve more kids this year. Still in the works will be the deploying of a mobile food pantry in certain communities if the accompanying adults need a bag of groceries to take home.
“This program gets us to Aug. 16,” noted Joseph Rodriguez who has been the New Haven Board of Ed’s representative to the New Haven Food Policy Council.
That leaves approximately ten days between the end of the summer meals initiative and the start of school, he said. “Please help insure our kids are served during that August gap.”
Susan Harris of the Witnesses to Hunger got specific: 30,000 meals are needed during that period at the end of August. She appealed to representatives of corporations and other nonprofits in the audience to step forward.
Most of the costs of the program — certainly the food — will ultimately be paid for through reimbursements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to officials. Servers of the food are by and large staff and volunteers with the central kitchens of New Haven and Hamden schools, who are preparing most of the meals.
Schools Superintendent Birks: 75 sites in New Haven, mainly schools, are participating.
Nationally, summer meal programs feed 2.7 million kids per day, said New Haven U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who was among officials in attendance. In Connecticut it has been 31,000 kids a day. She said her Third U.S. Congressional District is the most food-insecure in the state.
The good news: Last week, The subcommittee responsible for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, where she oversees food and drug safety, voted approval of a 32.5 percent increase in summer meal programs, up to $552 million. The bill goes to the floor for a vote this week, DeLauro said.
“We can have hunger on the run,” she concluded, to enthusiastic applause.
by Allan Appel