NEW HAVEN, Conn. — While children are in school, they have access to healthy meals. But, as we head into the summer, that access decreases, by a lot.
"When school closes, hunger doesn't stop," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, representing Connecticut’s Third Congressional District.
On Friday, DeLauro was joined by members of End Hunger Connecticut, which is launching its free summer meals program. The announcement was made in New Haven alongside representatives from Hamden schools. Both areas see a lot of need.
"School meals are extremely important and in the summertime, they don't get those school meals. So summer is detrimental to their health and well-being,"
said Sherry Suber, Deputy Director at End Hunger Connecticut.
End Hunger Connecticut works with designated locations across the state to provide free meals to all Connecticut school children under 18.
"You show up, 18 and under you will get a meal. No questions asked, it's free of charge. There's no I.D. required," Suber said.
In Hamden and New Haven, there will be nearly 70 locations combined this summer for free meals.
"Every day, we're feeding hungry kids. But there's still more hungry kids out there," said Gail Sharry, Food Service Director for New Haven Public Schools.
Sherry has been the food service director in New Haven for ten years. Though the whole district gets free and reduced meals during the school year, she said her numbers drop each summer.
"During the school year, I probably feed 15 to 16,000 lunches a day. And then during the summer, I'm barely doing five to six. So, I need to figure out a way to reach more students," Sharry said.
The district started utilizing vans to bring meals to the kids to help out with the problem. During lunch, they hit eight central locations. In the evening, they reach 12 spots. But when Sharry started in her role ten years ago, the need was not as great.
"Our eligibility went up. And that's how we were able to serve all those students. So we had more students in poverty, is what it's actually saying," Sharry said.
The same thing is happening in Hamden Public Schools, though not all kids there normally get free and reduced lunch.
"Our poverty levels are increasing. They've increased significantly over the last five to seven years in particular," said Gary Highsmith, Superintendent for Hamden Public Schools.
Along with the 65 locations in New Haven serving free meals this summer, two are located in Hamden.
However, Highsmith now has his sights set on the fall. That's when the program that existed during the pandemic, which offered free meals to all U.S. students, officially expires. It did expire earlier in the school year, but Connecticut lawmakers extended it through the end of this school year.
Now, districts that don't have free and reduced meals for all students are going back to the model where parents must apply to be accepted into the program. The problem is, not everyone does or knows about it.
"We're going to do everything we can to raise awareness for people, understand how important it is to apply," Highsmith said.
Otherwise, kids could go hungry.
"They have difficulty accessing the nutritious meals that they desperately need. food is medicine, it really is," DeLauro said.
To find out where to get a meal for your child this summer in Connecticut, head to the map located at the bottom of this web page.
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