New program will feed hungry kids in the summer

(From left to right) Julian Cyr, Noli Taylor, and Reverend Ken Campbell. Senator Cyr offered his help in the fight against food insecurity on Martha's Vineyard during a meeting in January hosted by Project Bread. —Cameron Machell

Updated March 22, 10:50 am

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which offers free lunches to children from low-income families when school is out, from July 10 to August 11, is the first of its kind on the Vineyard.

According to a press release from Noli Taylor, community food education director at Island Grown Initiative (IGI), Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) will be the local sponsor. Meals will be prepared at the school, and provided at designated sites. MVRHS recently applied to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to become a sponsor to launch the program.

MVRHS will serve three sites this pilot year — the Oak Bluffs library, the Boys and Girls Club, and the English Language Learners Summer Program at the Tisbury School. The hope is that the program expands, with more sites and a longer service period.

Barbara-Jean Chauvin, assistant principal of MVRHS, spearheaded the process of the high school’s becoming a sponsor. Ms. Chauvin said that the high school and the Oak Bluffs School both have take-home food programs. At MVRHS, that program feeds 20 families. She told The Times on Wednesday that she hopes the summer program will be an extension of that.

“We see it as a huge need on the Island, firsthand,” Ms. Chauvin said.

For the three sites that will host SFSP this summer, the Oak Bluffs Public Library is the only “open site,” which means that any child who is in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or free and reduced-price lunch program can go and receive food.

The Boys and Girls Club and the ELL summer program are closed sites, so only children on the roster or who are members can access SFSP.

Food insecurity among children in low-income households increases in the summer because daily school meals are not served. For many children, the annual end of school is linked to summer learning loss, the development of unhealthy eating habits, fatigue, and weight gain.

More than 680 students — about 30 percent of all Vineyard students — are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, according to 2015 data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Of those who qualify, 475 students participated. These students are the most vulnerable to food insecurity in the summer months.

SFSP is a child nutrition program that reimburses providers who serve free meals during the summer to children under the age of 18. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds the effort, which is administered in Massachusetts by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

One in eight children in Massachusetts, roughly 229,000, is not confident of where his or her next meal is coming from, according to Project Bread, a Boston-based organization that deals with issues of hunger in Massachusetts. It feeds about 57,000 children in the summer with SFSP, which means that more than 172,000 children continue to deal with food insecurity. That’s enough children to fill Gillette Stadium, TD Garden, and Fenway Park twice, with 10,000 children remaining.

Volunteers are needed to help package, deliver, and serve lunches. Please contact Ms. Taylor at noli@igimv.org if interested.