Jhansi Katechia photo
A variety of organizations committed to fighting hunger joined together Wednesday to kick off a statewide effort to provide free, nutritious meals to children this summer.

Connecticut’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign, a partnership of End Hunger Connecticut!, organized nine community outreach days to raise awareness of the free summer meal program. The program officially starts Monday, June 23.

Volunteers, ambassadors, and leaders gathered Wednesday at East Hartford’s New Covenant United Methodist Church to collect supplies to help spread the word about the campaign and its free summer meals.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said there are 5,000 kids in East Hartford that qualify for free or reduced lunches.

“In 2012, the USDA food security report indicated that 13 percent of Connecticut residents are food insecure,” Wyman said. “Thirteen percent in the richest state in the union. That’s a sad number.”

“We are going to constantly fight to make sure there is food on everyone’s table. We know that kids can’t learn unless there is food,” Wyman said. “This is a basic need.”

Volunteers will be getting the message out by going out and telling people where they can find free food.

“Get out there and let everybody know that we’ve got food for them to eat,” Wyman told the volunteers.

East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc believes while bridging the gap is always a hard thing to do, the work that these volunteers do will ensure that children with food insecurities will get what they need.

“I thank you for what you’re going to do for the children of East Hartford. But collectively, what you will do across the state each and every day, and all the programs that are coming together under this to make this happen,” Leclerc said.

Last year, one in four children ate breakfast or lunch at one of the designated locations. Leclerc said she hopes that number will increase this year so that children get the fuel their bodies need.

“We cannot educate hungry stomachs and hungry minds,” Chief Operating Officer for the state Education Department Charlene Russell-Tucker said.

Russell-Tucker said that children need to be nourished during the summer so that they can come back to school ready to learn.

She mentioned that Connecticut is ranked fourth nationally for the summer foods service program participation when compared to those who participate in a national school lunch program, and that’s only 26 percent of the students that are served. She said the bottom line is, there is work that needs to be done.

East Hartford is the fourth location in the week-long series that started last Saturday. Volunteers already promoted the free breakfast and lunch programs in New Haven, Torrington, and West Haven.

Materials such as door hangers, flyers, and posters promoting the summer meal program were distributed by volunteers Wednesday. 

Shari-Lynn Staeb, the director of food services for East Hartford schools, said that the summer meals program will kick off Monday June 23, and will run for 44 days. There are 15 open sites that will open throughout the town. Anyone 18 and under is eligible, regardless of whether they are enrolled in a school’s program.

To find a location, go online to www.ctsummerfood.org, text “CTMeals” to 877-877, or call toll-free 211.