We stand up for a Massachusetts where everyone gets a fair shot, does and pays their fair share, and plays by the same rules.
There are 272,000 children in Massachusetts who are eligible for school lunch programs during the school year, as they struggle with food security.
During the summer, just under 20% of those children get help with food, while many others struggle.
Read more from this article, printed May 31 in the Taunton Gazette:
Summer food programs aim to boost participation across Massachusetts
By Gerry Tuoti
While summer food programs served an average of 53,000 meals per day to low-income children in Massachusetts last year, approximately 80 percent of targeted kids did not get the free food.
“It’s a challenging program,” said Sarah Cluggish, director of programs at Boston-based nonprofit Project Bread. “Massachusetts has the 10th highest participation rate in the country, but it’s still woefully low in our opinion.”
Of the approximately 272,000 children eligible for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year, only about 20 percent take advantage of summer food programs, she said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees summer food service programs throughout the country to provide meals to children living in low-income areas. In Massachusetts, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education administers the program at the state level, while local school districts, often in partnership with local civic organizations, run programs on the municipal level.
In Taunton, the school system plans to deliver meals to 15 sites, up from 11 last year. Meal sites include public housing complexes, select schools, the public pool and the Summer Festival day camp run by the city’s Department of Parks, Cemeteries and Public Grounds.
The city, concerned that the program isn’t reaching enough children, held a meeting last month to discuss the issue.
“Project Bread came into Taunton in April and we held a meeting with representatives from many different areas, WIC, SNAP, Parks and Rec.,” Taunton Food Services Director Karen Pappa said. “We met just to brainstorm how to get the kids to eat. It’s something everyone’s taking seriously, and we’re working hard.”
Project Bread, which organizes the annual Walk for Hunger, has been working for close to two decades to help the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education administer summer food service programs, establish sites, meet federal requirements and do community outreach in nearly 40 communities. Increasing participation is a major goal.
“Oftentimes, school districts in the community are the most successful ones running the program because they’re used to working within that system,” Cluggish said. “Even if they’re not the ones the ones running the site, they may be the ones preparing the meals and working with the town recreation department, YMCA or Boys & Girls Club.”
USDA-backed summer food service programs operate in areas where at least half the children live in households earning less than 185 percent of the federal poverty line, which is $23,850 for a family of four, although any child under age 18 can get a meal at an open site. In addition to open meal sites, local programs may also run sites that require children to enroll.
The federal government reimburses local programs up to $3.55 per meal, while the state provides a reimbursement of up to 14 cents per meal. The federal government spends approximately $400 million on the program nationally, reaching more than 2.2 million children at close to 40,000 sites.
Local summer food programs across the state are often integrated into some sort of day camp or activity for children as a way to boost participation. The details can vary widely by community.
In Waltham, for example, the Boys & Girls Club administers the summer food program.
“We prepare the meals here and distribute them out to 12 different locations, our own summer camps and different parks and summer schools, as well as two transitional housing locations in Waltham,” said Erica Fitch, director of operations at the Waltham Boys & Girls Club. “Last year, we served 16,000 meals.”
She stressed the importance of delivering nutritious food to children who need it.
“A nutritious meal, and nutrition in general, is so important to youth,” Fitch said. “It helps with brain development and is correlated to learning and proper development. We feel that if we’re able to help provide that nutritious meal when we can, especially to children who might not otherwise get it, we help to do what we can to help them grow and become productive citizens.”