At summer lunch programs, schools see hungry parents, too

Healthier School Meals
FILE - In this April 29, 2014, file photo, fruit and vegetables are served during lunch at the Patrick Henry Elementary School in Alexandria, Va. Congress will have to decide soon whether it wants another food fight with first lady Michelle Obama and the administration over what’s served in the school lunch line. School food rules pitted Republicans seeking full exemptions for some schools against Obama in 2014, with the first lady declaring she'd fight "to the bitter end" to make sure kids have good nutrition. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Schools that provide meals for students during summer months are finding that the adults often need help, as well, to keep from going hungry.

In Connecticut, the New Haven school district and a food bank are offering meals and groceries to parents in response to signs of household need including stories of adults eating off children’s plates.

“The district kept coming up against this issue,” city schools spokeswoman Mercy Quaye said. “It doesn’t take a huge study to assess the need when you can see it.”

Coordinators of summer lunch programs around the United States have been reporting similar needs, according to Candice Stoiber, director of special nutrition programs for the regional office of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service. She said her agency has been discussing the problem with them and urging them to seek out nonprofits or other groups that can help address the need.

“We are seeing that the summer sites and the people who are administering the program are struggling with these adults that appear at a site and they are hungry,” Stoiber said. “And they don’t have access to food. Our program is for the children, not for adults. They are looking for alternatives.”

In New Haven, 88 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Through the partnership, announced Thursday, the Connecticut Food Pantry sends a truck to sites where the schools provide prepared meals for children. Food bank volunteers then distribute food to the children’s families. Folding tables also are set up with almond milk, cottage cheese, fruits, vegetables and other nutritious food that families can take home.

Paul Shipman, a spokesman for the Connecticut Food Pantry, said donations to food banks typically fall off during summer months while demand spikes because families do not have access to subsidized lunches at school. He said some families struggle to put food on the table because their jobs price them out of federal assistance programs but they still do not have enough to meet household needs.

“Those are families that especially rely on donated food,” he said.

Stoiber said the need among adults probably became more apparent as awareness of summer meals through the schools grew with an aggressive promotion of the programs. Of the students who receive subsidized lunches during the school year, roughly one in six takes advantage of summer meals, she said.

In Connecticut, the free meals are offered at more than 650 sites, serving areas where at least half the children qualify for subsidized lunches during the school year. The average daily attendance last summer was 41,676 children, 5,000 more than in 2011.

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