MERIDEN, Conn. (WTIC Radio)—As families approached to receive free meals at Maloney High School in Meriden Thursday, state officials and anti-hunger advocacy leaders encouraged Connecticut families to participate in the Summer Meals for Kids Program.
Though the holiday season is often seen as the busiest time of year for anti-hunger advocacy groups, Connecticut Food Bank/Foodshare President and CEO Jason Jakubowski said the summertime is actually the most difficult time of year for food insecurity.
The number one reason for this, he explained, is because children who rely on school meals, particularly those who rely on free or reduced-priced school meals, no longer have their public school as a meal resource during summer break.
“It’s a very difficult situation and it’s the time of the year in which we as food banks see the demand on our product go up,” Jakubowski said.
About one in five eligible Connecticut children participate in the program, End Hunger Connecticut Board of Directors Vice Chair Julieth Callejas said. Nationally, about one in seven children participate in summer meal programs.
Through the program, families with children 18 and under can pick up a free meal with many sites providing both breakfast and lunch.
Department of Education Acting Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker said the hope is to reach more families this summer.
“Last year, we served over 6 million meals at over 800 sites, but I think we can do better,” Russell-Tucker said.
Russell-Tucker stressed that students cannot learn when they are hungry, so addressing food insecurity will help ensure children do better in school.
Summer meals can also help the summer slide, or the decline in academic skills during the summer months, she said.
With additional state and federal funding available, “it’s a great time for meals to include fresh produce so we can support our hardworking Connecticut farmers,” Russell-Tucker said.
At the Department of Agriculture, Commissioner Bryan Hurlburt said additional aid is being offered this summer such as the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program.
Starting July 1, families will have an opportunity to get $21 checks to use at farmer’s markets across the state, Hurlburt said.
“This is the first year they’re 21 dollars. We made an administrative decision to move the checks from a total of 15 dollars to 21 dollars administratively to make sure that each family had more spending power,” he said.
Select farmer’s markets are also accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Hurlburt said, with some participating in SNAP doubling programs.
Schools provide more than just book learning, Governor Ned Lamont said.
“Schools provide something else for each and every one of those kids. A meal. A little breakfast. A little lunch. You can’t get by without a meal,” Lamont said.
For additional information, including a meal site map, visit the Connecticut Summer Meals website.