Editorial: Fighting hunger one meal at a time

  • Congressman Jim McGovern, D-Mass. GAZETTE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 8/9/2017 4:33:50 PM

For decades now, the federal government has subsidized public school lunches and breakfasts, especially for low-income students, because adequate nutrition, as Congressman Jim McGovern has said, is as important as textbooks.

McGovern, the Worcester Democrat whose district includes the Pioneer Valley, has been a stalwart champion of feeding the poor, through both public and private means. Recently he made a sweep through his district to check in on the federally supported summer breakfast-lunch program, which replaces the school-based meals available during the academic year.

“These are incredibly vital programs,” McGovern said after chatting with families at Oak Courts housing development in Greenfield. “Our kids need access to nutrition year round, and in the summer time you have this.”

But after visiting a meals site in Orange, the congressman was reminded of the transportation issues that often plague these programs in rural areas like western Massachusetts. Residents from Orange’s neighboring town of Athol, for example, needed to commute to use the program. Luckily, for the Oak Courts program in Greenfield, the 125 to 150 children who use it are within walking distance.

Suggestions of using a food truck to deliver meals to isolated areas, particularly in rural hilltowns, was batted around by McGovern and the other state lawmakers and officials who came along for his tour.

There was also discussion about how to improve public transit to help alleviate potential barriers to the food programs.

The program in Oak Courts is run through Greenfield School Department and is also held in Greenfield Gardens and Leyden Woods apartment projects, the high school, the town swimming area and the YMCA.

Parents at Oak Courts talked up the program, which provides their children two meals of nutritious food each day.

“Plus you get to hang out with people in the community that you don’t get to see every day,” parent Michelle Garland noted.

Parents welcomed McGovern and the other politicians, although the visit is probably preaching to the choir, and a cynic might suggest the visit was part campaign appearance. But we know that for McGovern at least, concern about food insecurity is genuine. This is the congressman, after all, who for the past several years has trekked across his district on Monte’s Walk to gather money and food for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and who champions bills in Congress that support programs like the school meals supported through the Department of Agriculture.

We hope that each summer when he checks on the summer meal sites, that he brings others with him who may be less committed to the cause, because it’s always more compelling and convincing to legislators to see first hand the problems of society – and the people they affect.

“I think it’s awesome. It’s the best thing,” parent Chelsea Pease said during McGovern’s visit, while her son Zebadiah ran around outside after finishing his free lunch. “It shows the kids that people really do care.”

We wish that everyone in Washington could have been listening.

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