October 28, 2016
Reporter: Robert Storace, email@example.com.
Source: New Britain Herald
NEW BRITAIN — Despite the school district entering its second year providing free breakfasts and lunches to all students, many families with young children are still food poor and must often make difficult choices on what types of food to eat.
Often, in New Britain — where 23 percent of the population, or 16,441 people, live below the poverty level — families can’t eat as healthy as they’d like to. That, officials and experts say, leads to higher obesity levels and students not performing as well in school.
“Hunger is an issue (in the city),” said Board of Education Chairwoman Sharon Beloin-Saavedra. “Families often have to make tough decisions on how to spend their family income. It’s cheaper to buy less nutritious food than nutritious food. It’s cheaper to go to fast food restaurants and get food for a dollar.”
While educators point to numerous programs that — during the school year and in the summer — provide food and other amenities to the city’s needy, there is still a segment of families and young people that need to be reached, officials said.
“A kid with poor nutrition and that is not eating right (at home), has poor hygiene and a lack of clothing might not go to school because they feel embarrassed,” said Joe Vaverchak, school district attendance director and the McKinney/Vento homeless liaison for the district. “To keep it simple, being hungry has an impact on our students.”
Many say the statistics in New Britain related to poverty and homelessness is alarming: more than 300 students in New Britain under the McKinney/Vento Homeless Act are identified as homeless. In almost all of those cases, Vaverchak noted, students are doubled up with family and friends. In addition, statistics show, 65 percent of the district’s 10,000 students are on food stamps.
To address the poverty and hunger issues in New Britain, the city, schools and non-profits have — in many cases — teamed up to provide food resources. Those resources include having dinner programs at five city schools whereby any student from any city school can walk in and get a meal; to many sites offering breakfast and lunch programs in the summer when school is out. Free breakfast and lunches during off-school months can be found at New Britain High School; the New Britain Boys & Girls Club; New Britain Human Resources Agency; Pathways/Senderos; the PAL program on Osgood Avenue; and in Stanley Park via the Parks & Recreation Department.
“New Britain is addressing this issue (of hunger). There are numerous opportunities to receive meals during the summer,” said Paul Salina, chief operating officer for the school district.
And, beginning next month — in an effort to reach even more people with food in disadvantaged areas of the city — Whitson’s Culinary Group will work with the school district and “End Hunger Connecticut” to deliver free food to areas in the city deems to have the neediest residents in a newly designed $100,000 food truck. Officials said the amount of stops the truck will make; types of food to be delivered; and what precautions will be taken with regard to who is allowed to receive the food; are still being worked out.
While Vaverchak said there is more hunger today than five years ago, he said New Britain is also doing a better job of addressing the concerns.
“We’ve been acquiring more resources to aid kids and families,” he said. “We’ve gotten generous contributions from the public and outside agencies, for example.” Specifically, Vaverchak points to a relatively new program during which officials at each school have weekly attendance meetings. Through those meetings, Vaverchak said, “we offer positive intervention” to children that might not be attending class regularly and might not be eating nutritious meals at home. “We are not waiting for problems to build where students miss too much school. We could go to the house and contact the parent at home in a positive way to see what we can do to help.”