Summer eats: Kids meal program kicks off in Northampton 

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  • Diana Gidden, left, 5, Brianna Lino, 11, and Isaiah Brown, 9, and Brenda Thompson, lower right, and her granddaughter Ramona Dellarosa have lunch together in the community room of Meadowbrook Apartments as part of the Summer Eats program on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • John Mitchell, 2, takes a sip of chocolate milk during lunch in the Meadowbrook Apartments community room as part of the Summer Eats program on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Meadowbrook Apartments Community Impact Coordinator Flora Torres, left, and Northampton Public Schools Food Service Director Mistelle Hannah talk about the Summer Eats program during a visit to the Meadowbrook community room on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Diana Gidden, left, 5, Brianna Lino, 11, and Isaiah Brown, 9, enjoy chicken salad sandwiches and cucumbers for lunch at Meadowbrook Apartments in Northampton as part of the Summer Eats program on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/5/2019 12:00:19 PM
Modified: 7/5/2019 12:00:05 PM

NORTHAMPTON — At a white plastic table in the Meadowbrook Apartments community room on Wednesday, 9-year-old Isaiah Brown sat over a free lunch consisting of a chicken salad sandwich, fruit, cucumbers with ranch dip and chocolate milk.

For Brown, an incoming fifth grader at Leeds Elementary School, it wasn’t the sandwich that had his attention.

“I like this,” Brown said, pointing to four cucumber slices on his plate. “But only with the ranch. It’s way better that way.”

Almost on cue, Brown’s friend, 11-year-old Brianna Lino, reached over and dropped six more cucumber slices on his plate.

“You’re welcome,” Lino said, giving away her sole plastic ramekin of ranch dressing.

The free lunch program, coordinated by the anti-hunger organization Project Bread, the Northampton Public Schools and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is one of three in the city providing meals to anyone under the age of 18 regardless of income.

The program is part of a state-wide effort called “Summer Eats,” and the project attempts to feed children whose diets mostly rely on school lunches during the academic year. According to Project Bread, more than 400,000 Massachusetts students rely on school lunches for daily nutrition.

Although this is the first year Northampton has taken part in the Summer Eats program, interest from people in the area is high, said Mistelle Hannah, food service director at Northampton Public Schools. Meadowbrook, an affordable housing development on Bridge Road, had a similar program for a few years prior, she said.

“It is a really effective program,” Hannah said of Summer Eats.

Hannah said the summer lunch programs continuously educate students about good nutritional habits while away from school. While students eat well during the school year, a summer “nutritional lapse” proves detrimental to student’s learning, she said.

The summer meal program is a reimbursable program, similar to a school breakfast program, Hannah said. Kids come in, eat their lunch and at the end of each month, Hannah sends a report to the state for every child fed and the school system is reimbursed. Project Bread helps communities locate where programs would be most effective by looking at census data, she said.

The program provides kids with hearty lunches that range from hummus and veggie wraps to hamburgers, hot dogs and Friday pizza, with milk and fruit accompanying each meal. Every day, volunteers from the local YMCA come to Meadowbrook for 30 minutes to exercise with the students after lunch.

Flora Torres, the community impact coordinator at Meadowbrook said she sees how impactful the program is for kids who live in the apartments.

“You have families that are under income, and they’re not able to sometimes provide a full meal to the kids,” she said. “This is one meal a day, but it’s one meal they’re having. They’re not missing a meal.”

Both Hannah and Torres hope to see the program grow to also provide breakfast and dinner. Hannah said the Northampton school system is eyeing a breakfast program as a long term goal.

Torres said she believes the summer lunch program is an effective model to be replicated to serve other vulnerable people such as the elderly. It would help not only with senior food insecurity but also could serve as a place for socializing and resource help, she said.

“We try to do things to keep the community healthy,” she said. “And I’m not just saying healthy with food, but also healthy with services.”

Kids in the program are already using the time to socialize with one another. Torres said about 26 kids came Tuesday, and the handful of students present on Wednesday were joking with one another.

And even though Brown’s classmates weren’t there, he said they usually come to eat lunch.

“They come sometimes, and that’s why I like talking to them,” he said.

The program started in the city on July 1, but at the start of its second week, on July 8 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., an official kickoff event is scheduled at R.K. Finn Ryan Road School. Free lunch will be provided for people of all ages and prizes will be given away.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, along with Monte Belmonte from WRSI The River (93.9 FM) will also be at the event as special guests.

Meadowbrook provides a different lunch every weekday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. until Aug. 9, with a snack served from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Lunch is served at the Florence Heights Apartments on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 p.m. to 12 p.m. and at the R.K. Finn Ryan Road School on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11:30 to 12 p.m.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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