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Food insecurity concerns rise as free school lunches end this week

Families will need to apply and qualify for free lunches after federal COVID dollars dry up.

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Major changes coming to school districts across Connecticut. Thursday marks the end of universal free lunches at many Connecticut school districts. Federal COVID relief funds—in place since 2020—that have been covering free lunches at schools are set to expire on Dec. 1.

“Many of our students saw these meals as their meal of the day so we’re seeing increased requests of our food pantry that we have on campus,” said Dr. Salvatore Menzo, Superintendent of Goodwin University Magnet Schools. 

For weeks, districts have been encouraging families to fill out the necessary paperwork to qualify for a free or reduced lunch. But it's expected that some families will be caught off guard Thursday. Officials are concerned about families that make too much to qualify but not enough to be food secure.

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Pre-pandemic, some 80% of families qualified for free or reduced lunch across Goodwin University Magnet Schools. Since 2020, the district has supplied free lunches for all kids. But federal dollars paying for those meals dry up on Thursday.

“You want students to feel safe and comfortable when they come to school. A lot of our students, not just because of losing free lunch at school, they’re not necessarily having food security at home because of the economy because of the increase in costs of food,” said Menzo.

The news comes at the same time food pantries across the state are seeing longer lines and higher food costs. Connecticut Foodshare announced Wednesday it will need to dip into half a million dollars in emergency funds to get through the rest of the year.

“Our first priority is making sure that we have food on the shelves for our 600 partners and obviously for the people that they serve across the state of Connecticut—if that means that we have to dip into our reserves, we have to dip into our reserves,” said Connecticut Foodshare President & CEO Jason Jakubowski. "That is not something that we take lightly.”

Connecticut Foodshare partners with Goodwin University to help supply its pantry, which is accessed by nearly 200 families in need. 

“Our pantries are telling us they couldn’t acquire rice, they couldn’t acquire peanut butter, tuna fish,” Jakubowski said. “Those are the staples of any food back. So, we did make the difficult decision of spending half a million dollars. Let’s get through the holidays.”

Those facing food insecurity can visit ctfoodshare.org to locate a nearby pantry.

Samaia Hernandez is a reporter for FOX61 News. She can be reached at shernandez@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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