Hungry Kids, Summer Meals Get A Task Force

 Mark Firla: “We want to make sure that people understand that there’s no stigma, that this is something that we’re happy to do and we want to make use of. That we care about each other, and we want to make sure—not only that the kid’s not hungry, but that parents have less to worry about.” Lucy Gellman Photo. 

Mark Firla: “We want to make sure that people understand that there’s no stigma, that this is something that we’re happy to do and we want to make use of. That we care about each other, and we want to make sure—not only that the kid’s not hungry, but that parents have less to worry about.” Lucy Gellman Photo. 

No kid in New Haven should go hungry during the summer months—especially when there’s a way to make sure they don’t. But New Haveners have to do a better job of getting the word out. And now they may have advocates on the Board of Education to help them. 

That message came in two phases this and last week, as the school year winds down and food justice advocates struggle to get a handle on hungry kids. Last Tuesday, food justice crusader Mark Firla pitched New Haven’s Summer Meals program and upcoming June “Blitz Day” at the latest iteration of Stir The Pot, a food justice potluck that met last week at the Whitneyville Cultural Center in Hamden.

Then Monday night, New Haven’s Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a new 10-person Food Service Task Force, intended to provide more structural support to both academic year and summer food programs. The task force is the latest step in combatting rising food insecurity and hunger among the city’s students, many of whom rely on meals provided during the school day. It joins existing initiatives like the New Haven Food Policy Council and Food Access Working Group (FAWG), as well as a coordinated network among emergency food service providers.  

 "In recent months the Board has received ongoing concerns from parents and students. Members, myself included, have received comments ranging from the quality, quantity, nutritious value, to name a few," Rodriguez wrote in an email before the meeting. "While the district has taken steps forward through past surveys and initiatives, we feel that it is time to reexamine and review." Christopher Peak Photo.  

"In recent months the Board has received ongoing concerns from parents and students. Members, myself included, have received comments ranging from the quality, quantity, nutritious value, to name a few," Rodriguez wrote in an email before the meeting. "While the district has taken steps forward through past surveys and initiatives, we feel that it is time to reexamine and review." Christopher Peak Photo.  

Members include Board of Education  representatives Joe Rodriguez and Dr. Tamiko Jackson-McArthur, incoming student representative Edgar Rivera, food justice advocates Hyclis Williams and Maria Threese Serana, NHPS Union Cook leader Angie Monack, Board of Education Food Service Director Gail Sharry, as well as representatives from NHPS Advocates, Citywide Parent Group and one of the board’s student members who have yet to be determined. 

Working closely with the New Haven Food Policy Council and FAWG, Rodriguez said the task force will address quality, quantity, access and regularity of free and reduced meals for students. Specifically, the task force will work with the Food Policy Council as it expands school suppers in 15 to 20 public schools after this year’s pilot run in three schools last year and eight this year (read more about that in the New Haven Independent). 

 Stir The Pot Progenitor Nadine Nelson said that Firla's presentation "personifies what Stir the Pot is about— which is to highlight the work of Mark and others using their skills, resources and efforts as a citizens to insure we all eat in New Haven." Here, her daughter Soleil makes dumplings. Lucy Gellman Photo. 

Stir The Pot Progenitor Nadine Nelson said that Firla's presentation "personifies what Stir the Pot is about— which is to highlight the work of Mark and others using their skills, resources and efforts as a citizens to insure we all eat in New Haven." Here, her daughter Soleil makes dumplings. Lucy Gellman Photo. 

Reached by email Tuesday morning, New Haven Food Policy Council member Billy Bromage said that “it is heartening to see that the Board has taken on school food as an integral part of its work to support learning through supporting the whole child.” 

“The Food Access Working Group remains committed to supporting the task force, and pushing it along when needed, to ensure that New Haven kids have access to a healthy meal three times a day at school,” he added. 

It dovetails with work that the New Haven Food Policy Council is doing in advance of this year’s Summer Meals Program. As Stir The Pot attendees munched on three kinds of dumplings, tomato-flecked Spanish rice, red lentil soup, salad and marmalade-topped almond cookies last week, Firla described the summer program, which provides free weekday lunches (and sometimes breakfast and dinner) to kids 18 and under at over 80 sites around the city. 

 Lucy Gellman Photo.

Lucy Gellman Photo.

“There’s no paperwork, no one’s taking notes—any kid can show up,” he said. “There’s not a lot of things where we’re just giving away something without asking any questions. And so educating people around that is pretty important.”

In the past two years, Firla added that the Food Policy Council has also been trying to get to food insecure families during the summers, by partnering with a fresh food truck from the Connecticut Food Bank at the neediest Summer Meals sites. It’s part of his goal “to encourage the city to serve three meals a day, 365 days a year.”

“We want to really get out as a community and say ‘Hey, this is something that we offer,’” he said. “Make sure that people use it, we want to make sure that people understand that there’s no stigma, that this is something that we’re happy to do and we want to make use of. That we care about each other, and we want to make sure—not only that the kid’s not hungry, but that parents have less to worry about.”

To listen to an interview with Billy Bromage and Mark Firla about Summer Meals, click on or download the above audio. To check out Stir The Pot’s “discussion piece” of the evening, a reading from Julia Turshen’s Feeding The Resistance, click here. For more photos from last week's Stir The Pot, check out I Love New Haven's post on it.