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Summer nutrition program brings free food to CT youth. Here's what to know

While meeting with students at House of Restoration in Hartford, Charlene Russell-Tucker, state education commissioner said, “We want families to know that these programs are available to them. They can go on the tracker, go on their cell phones, [and] find locations across the state where meals are provided.”
Kelsey Goldbach
/
Connecticut Public
While meeting with students at House of Restoration in Hartford, Charlene Russell-Tucker, state education commissioner said, “We want families to know that these programs are available to them. They can go on the tracker, go on their cell phones, [and] find locations across the state where meals are provided.”

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Thousands of Connecticut children are eligible for free meals at hundreds of sites across the state this summer.

Parents and caregivers can search for nearby meal locations using a Summer Meals Site Locator Map maintained by the group “End Hunger Connecticut!”

Meals are provided “no questions asked” to children aged 18 years old and younger. Individuals with disabilities older than 18 enrolled in state education programs are also eligible.

EHC is working with the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) and Connecticut Foodshare on the project. The map will be updated every week with newly added locations. Here's what to know.

How does the free meals program work?

This year, the meal sites will return to their “pre-pandemic operation” style, according to EHC. All meals will have to be eaten on-site, except for areas marked as “rural” on the Locator Map with grab-and-go options.

At a press conference held by the group on Friday, Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, said free meal programs are integral to child safety and well-being during the summer.

“For a ton of low and low-to-middle-income kids in this state, school is where they get fed. School is where they get breakfast. School is where they get lunch,” Murphy said. “And for many of them, those are the only two real meals they're eating during the day. Many of them are going to bed hungry waiting until they get back to school the next morning. So summers can be real points of crisis for low-income families.”

Who is eligible for the free meals?

All children aged 18 and under are eligible, “no questions asked.” Individuals with disabilities older than 18 enrolled in state education programs are also eligible.

“Moving forward, we're truly optimistic that children will be able to have access to these meals, even in areas in our state where there are transportation and terrain challenges,” said Connecticut State Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker. “We want families to know that these programs are available to them. They can go on the tracker, go on their cell phones, [and] find locations across the state where meals are provided.”

Summer meal programs are important for children’s health and development, according to the national Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). Eating healthy meals improves and develops children's cognitive functions, focus and mood, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

“Just like a hungry child cannot learn in school, a hungry child cannot play in the summer,” said EHC Executive Director Julieth Callejas in a statement. “In this new post-pandemic era with so many critical supports having phased out while inflation continues to rise, there has never been a more important time to make sure families know about the CT Summer Meals sites available to their children.”

How many kids benefit from free summer meals in CT?

State officials report the Connecticut Summer Meals program will distribute almost 2 million meals to over 37,000 children over an average summer.

Nationwide, nearly 3 million children received lunch every day from Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2022, a recent summer report found.

The House of Restoration Church location in Hartford has fed over 100 children a day this summer, according to Nancy Isa, director of nutrition at the Community Renewal Team.

“As a dietitian and nutritionist myself, it's so critical that these children are getting healthy foods to sustain them throughout the summer months, when they're playing, when they're learning [and] when they're out in the parks,” Isa said.

The CT Summer Meals program also helps children socialize, offering activities after meals are distributed.

“The nutrition aspect of this program is really important. But the socialization aspect is important these days when parents are working full time, working all summer, [and] don't have school to rely on,” Murphy said. “Often the kids are home just staring at their screen, the TV or their smartphone all day long. And they are disappearing into themselves. They are losing all sorts of social and emotional progress.”

To find a CT Summer Meals location, call 211, text “Summer Meals” to 914-342- 7744 or visit www.ctsummermeals.org.

Kelsey Goldbach is a Digital Media Intern with Connecticut Public.

She is a fourth year student pursuing an undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Southern California. Recently, Kelsey was a part of the Dow Jones News Fund Digital Intern Class of 2023. She is a Connecticut native and spends her summers in Waterbury.

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