August 22, 2016
Reporter: Stephanie Kim
Source: The Hour
WILTON — The Connecticut Summer Meals program reached an all-time high of 714 sites, with 68 new locations providing breakfast and/or lunch to kids 18 years old or younger across the state. Six new sites opened in Norwalk, totaling 11 locations overall.
“We have been able to expand our number of meals sites in large part because of the advocacy and outreach by our staff and partner organizations like End Hunger CT!” said Abbe Smith, the state Department of Education’s director of communications. “We do not yet have the final number of meals served for 2016, but we know that there is always a need for more sites where kids can access free, nutritious meals in the summertime.”
Summer Meals stats
Number of Sites
Number of Meals Served
Average Daily Attendance
Source: Connecticut State Department of Education
Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger CT!, said Norwalk worked especially hard to rebuild Summer Meals sites in the area — which comes at a critical time, following the demise of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, Inc., in June 2014, when the city’s former anti-poverty agency filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
“NEON stopped serving the meals and a dedicated group in Norwalk got together to rebuild Summer Meals,” Nolan said. “In Norwalk, they had a number of people going out and making sure that their friends and everybody else knew that these programs were here, and that these meals were being served.”
Since many children and their families find out about the Summer Meals program through word of mouth, Nolan said Norwalk’s outreach efforts were crucial in helping a growing number of kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches find ways to be fed in the summer. Additionally, the Summer Meals program saves families about $300 a month when school is out.
“In the past, there haven’t been places to get meals. We have worked with the state Department of Education, the governor’s office, school food services and all the parts of town with eligible sites,” she said. “The more sites there are, the more kids are being served.”
“It is wonderful and important that we do not forget these needy children in the summer months but very sad that our food-stamp program does not work for them,” Boucher said.
Lavielle echoed those sentiments.
“It makes me think, ‘Why are all these people hungry? Why do they need to continue to not have enough to eat?’” Lavielle said. “It’s not an end in itself just to provide the meals. It’s to make sure that (the number of) people who need them diminish.”
This is an issue local and state agencies and sponsors are not unaware of, Nolan said. The number of enrolled students in Connecticut who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches has increased by more than 13,000 in the last five years. And while nearly 4 million more meals have been served since 2011, Nolan said 75 percent of the students who qualify for Summer Meals are still not attending.
“We do know that there are more kids who need these programs; there are more kids who are getting free and reduced-price lunches in school. That’s another issue. It’s about livable wages, it’s about full-time wages, and it’s about a number of things to make it affordable to live here in Connecticut,” she said. “I think that this is indicative of the times. I don’t think that there’s anyone who would argue that there are a lot of people who aren’t making livable wages, particularly down in Norwalk.”
Yet, Nolan finds hope in the growing number of kids who are being reached by the Summer Meals program. From 2011 to 2015, an additional 5,359 kids received free meals every day during the summer — a near 15-percent increase in average daily attendance in just the past couple of years. Connecticut ranks fourth in the nation in terms of participation, according to the Food and Research Center, and Nolan said the state intends on continuing its achievements.
“Our overall goal is to increase that participation rate so that more than one in four kids are getting meals,” she said. “If that means having more sites, that’s what’s going to do it.”