In 2011, the Connecticut "No Kid Hungry" Campaign was launched in Connecticut to eliminate childhood hunger by increasing participation in federally-funded food and nutrition programs over the next five years.
The problem is that many families do not know programs are available, or how to find a program.
"Bethel does not have a program." said Kathleen Gillen, Bethel Director of Social Services, regarding a summer food program for children. "People should be able to go to Danbury. They use federal and state money" she said.
According to "End Hunger Connecticut!" statistics state, "Only 53% of the eligible working poor participate in the SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] program. Many go to food pantries instead for food. Only 25.8 of every 100 low-income students that participate in school lunch also participate in summer nutrition. If participation reached 40, an additional 19,558 students would be reached and we would bring an additional $1.35 million federal dollars into the state."
"There are 106 families Bethel Social Services is presently handling," Gillen said. Gillen provides qualifying families with a food pantry, but has never had any summer meals programs.
Gillen said that Social Services asks people to contribute to the food pantry. "If people want to donate food, right now we need peanut butter and mayo, and main dish pastas, good for the kids. We are okay on tuna," she said.
"The Women's Club, Boy Scout Troops and churches help a lot," Gillen said, adding that they also rely on other organizations such as the "Brotherhood in Action" and "Knights of Columbus."
Gillen explained that one of the reasons the town does not do a summer program is because the town doesn’t qualify for it. "Only big cities do." She said, "I don't know if there is a budget for that."
Gillen added, "They've never had one [summer meals program] in a town this small. You have to pay for staff. Danbury normally has summer staff for their summer programs. Bethel programs are under Park and Rec. so they don't keep schools or lunchrooms open in summer because it requires more budget. Check with the Board of Education for that."
"We have no summer program." said Theresa Yonsky, Bethel Public Schools Director of Fiscal Services.
Yonsky said, "Although Bethel has 16% who are eligible for free or reduced lunch, Bethel would need 50% to qualify for most programs." Yonsky added, "Six years ago that [the figure for people eligible] was only 8%. The demographics and population are changing."
Yonsky added, "We had an obligation to get them breakfast," and she mentioned that any children on the lunch program also had breakfast available to them.
There are other options for providing food for children in need in Bethel. Yonsky said the town works with the Sodexo Foundation, an independent charitable organization that supports and sponsors issues related to childhood hunger.
Yonsky also noted that the "Stuff A Bus" campaign was done by the Teacher's Union and the Bethel Education Foundation earlier this year. A small bus was driven around to Bethel schools and teachers came out with bags of food to donate.
"The bus delivered the food to Brotherhood in Action, around Easter time," Yonsky said, also mentioning that Irene Drake, an officer of the teacher's union, coordinated the campaign. “The teachers just wanted to give back because they work in Bethel," Yonsky said.
Shannon Robins, Campaign Manager of the Connecticut "No Kid Hungry" campaign said, "Programs are federal food nutrition campaigns. We do advocacy, trying to create interest, we are not a direct service organization."
"The No Kid Hungry campaign is an informational public awareness campaign to let people know about federal programs. We are privately funded by End Hunger Connecticut and Share Our Strength," Robins said.
"We just launched the campaign last year. The communication has not been the best. That is part of our challenge." Robins added.
Children and teens under age 18 can utilize the summer meals programs, but in order for summer foods to be offered, they have to be eligible.
Robins said, "Eligibility is done two different ways; either by the census data done every 10 years, or determining the income level of the entire town, where 50% of residents need to qualify in order to get the program in that town."
She added, "When only specific areas [less than 50%] of residents need assistance, qualifying residents may use programs in other nearby towns."
"If a school has 50% or more students on a free lunch program, then the school can qualify to have a summer food program," Robins said.
"If people do not qualify for federal programs then we direct them to other sources such as SNAP. We have a substantial staff that handles the SNAP program." Robins also mentioned TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] and the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] "Summer Meals" programs.
Robins indicated there is a "location finder" website where families can find their closest source for free summer meals: http://www.ctsummerfood.org/location-finder/location-finder. She said the Summer Meals for 2012 is not yet open, but in a few weeks the updated information will be on the website.
An EHC "CT Hunger Map" indicates statistics for Bethel for the years 2009-2010. Bethel had 540 *SNAP recipients, 13.4% of students were eligible for free or reduced school meals, there was a 2.3% participation rate in **school breakfast, and unemployment was 7.2%. The chart also indicates that Bethel did not have a summer meal program.
In March, 2011, Connecticut Governor Daniel P. Malloy attended the "No Kid Hungry" campaign kickoff event aiming to end childhood hunger by 2015.
In an article by the Middletown Press that appeared on the Governor's website about the kickoff event, Governor Malloy stated that childhood hunger is “Something that just shouldn’t take place in our society.”
“We’ve gotta make this work for everybody,” he said. “We’re gonna make this work in Connecticut.”
EHC "CT Hunger Map" Data Sources:
*SNAP participation is provided through the CT Department of Social Services and represents the average monthly assistance recipients for each town.
% Eligible for Free or Reduced School meals is provided through the CT State Department of Education. A child is eligible for subsidized meals if they are on SNAP/Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or at 130% or 185% of poverty.
**School Breakfast Participation is based on data from the CT State Department of Education. The participation rate indicates the percent of free & reduced price lunch students that eat a free & reduced price school breakfast in any given town through the public schools. Towns with no information did not have a school breakfast program in school years 07-08.
The Summer Food Service Program provides free meals to kids 18 and under during the summer when school meals are not available. If a town had "Free Summer Meals for Kids", there was at least one location in that town in 2010 where kids could go for a free breakfast and/or lunch. Data from the CT State Department of Education.
Unemployment data is from the CT Department of Labor for July 2011.