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BOE Budget: School Lunches

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Feeding Our Students

Board of Education Presentation

By Amy Wiltsie

Food insecurity refers to the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. It can result from various factors such as poverty, unemployment, low wages, high food prices, and inadequate social safety nets. Food insecurity can have severe consequences on physical and mental health, educational attainment, and overall well-being, making it a significant social and public health issue globally. There are 270,000 hungry people in Fairfield County. Here in Stratford, that number is close to 11%, or 5,000 residents. For students that means 60% of their families cannot afford food!

Did you know for children, food insecurity can have detrimental effects? It can lead to developmental delays, poor academic performance and behavioral problems. Do we think any of these things can be tied to the increased behavioral needs of our kids? The stress and anxiety associated with not having enough food can also affect a child’s emotional well-being and quality of life.

Well, as you can imagine, since children are in school more than they are at home, a school system plays a crucial role in addressing food insecurity. In collaboration with community partners, Stratford Public Schools not only supports free and reduced meals, we refer families to food assistance Programs like WIC and SNAP, local Food Pantries like Sterling House or South End Community Center, the YMCA and Community Services distribution site, and we encourage their use of evening and weekend backpack programs that sends food home to ensure they are eating, when not at school. At SHCC, that number is 215 every Friday.

More than 200 residents visit the pantry each week, and these residents have children who are enrolled in ten out of the thirteen Stratford schools. Every other Monday, Stratford Community Services and the Stratford YMCA serve on average, 150 hungry families. There are many other community partners working on this problem, who offer solutions.

We partners are including them. Inclusion is defined as the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources. We are engaging them, which is defined as the act of invitation for participation and involvement. We are inspiring them. To inspire means to fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something. We also believe in humanity and having the provision of basic needs. We believe it is important to remove any stigma by creating a supportive and non-judgmental environment to ensure that students feel comfortable and live without ridicule or embarrassment. By supporting food distribution strategies and support options, schools can help alleviate food insecurity and create a healthier and more equitable learning environment.

Well, ladies and gentleman, on February 21st, the Stratford Board of Education policy review committee met at the administration office. At approximately 4:27 p.m., a BOE leader can be heard saying, “why do we not just say to parents, if you don’t pay, we aren’t feeding your kid?” Have we elected leaders who believe we punish parents by starving children? Shouldn’t those representing our children’s best interest be educated, have the expertise and experience to lead, or at the very least, be empathetic.

Members of the Board-every child deserves an equitable opportunity to their education, which begins with a full stomach. Let me make this easier for you. Equitable is defined as fair, impartial, just and reasonable. Opportunity is defined as a set of circumstances that make it possible to do or have something. And a full stomach is defined, well, I am sure anyone with a privileged upbringing knows what that means….

Parents who have outstanding lunch balances, I am sorry for these words. Our kids certainly deserve better- small classrooms, certified and experienced teachers, innovative programs that can be paid for, a fully funded education and positive role models in elected seats. But, for me, tonight, the bare minimum of what they deserve, not only as a Stratford student, but as a human being, is to be FED!

I urge you to be a part of the change our kids need, and call, email and meet with those elected to lead. Call them to action, to fundamentally be humane, and not threaten starving our children! Have your voices heard—our students and their families deserve it.

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