Middlesex United Way: Summer meals ensure no child goes hungry

MIDDLETOWN — The Middlesex United Way believes no child should go hungry. Many children and families receive regular food assistance throughout the school year, but now that we have entered summer, these food resources may be harder to find.
Food insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all of the time, and this may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods. There are more than 400,000 food insecure people in Connecticut — over 117,000 of them are children.
The CT Summer Meals Program is federally funded by the USDA and state-administered by the Department of Education. The program provides free, nutritious meals to kids during summer break.
Summer meals meet federal nutrition guidelines, and are composed of milk, fruits, vegetables, grains and meat or another protein. They are offered at over 400 sites around the state from June to late August, serving combinations of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Meals are free to any child age 18 and under — no questions asked.
Clinton, East Hampton, Middletown and Portland are towns in Middlesex County where summer meals are available at no cost to all children. Your family can pick up meals in these towns even if your child does not live in or attend school in these districts. For specific information about summer meal site locations, dates, and times, please contact the school district or food service director for the towns listed.
There are more than 100 farmers markets offering fresh, local products throughout Connecticut. In addition to access to quality and healthy foods, these markets are also a community gathering place for everyone to enjoy. You can visit the Connecticut Department of Agriculture website for more information on farmers markets across the state, including a complete town-by-town list.
Many markets are also affiliated with the Women, Infant, and Children and/or Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition program. These programs provide eligible WIC clients and seniors access to fresh fruits and vegetables. For information, check out 211’s WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and our Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program at 211ct.org.
In addition to school district-provided meals and farmers’ markets, food banks are open year round for most communities.
In March, St. Vincent de Paul Middletown started packing weekend food kits for 200 students in elementary schools with the highest number of low-income students. This “Backpack Program” allows students to take home approximately 15 nourishing food items every Friday. Kits contain items that require zero or little cooking, including shelf-stable milk, cereal, oatmeal, fresh fruit, nuts, macaroni and cheese, tuna, canned chicken, bagels and bread.
Students take home flyers encouraging families to also visit the Amazing Grace Food Pantry to help save on grocery bills, and learn about other community resources through outreach workers.
The Backpack Program will resume in the 2021-22 academic year at three elementary schools: Spencer, Snow and Macdonough. Middlesex United Way is proud to provide funding for this incredible resource.
There are ways you can get involved in reducing food insecurity in Middlesex County. If you contribute to Middlesex United Way, you are already supporting our local food banks, as part of your gift supports programs at Amazing Grace Food Pantry and Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries.
When schools are out for the summer, the pantries are hit hardest, so any additional donations you wish to make would be welcomed with open arms. Check with your local pantry to find what is most needed. In Middletown, the Amazing Grace Food Pantry is at 16 Stack St.
If you or someone you know is food insecure and wants more information, please call 2-1-1. To learn more about our other programs or how you can give back, please contact Christina Heckart at christina.heckart@middlesexunitedway.org.
Kevin Wilhelm is president and CEO of the Middletown-based Middlesex United Way.