WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Thousands of Connecticut families can get free food thanks to the state expanding its school meals program.  

In Waterbury, there are about 18,000 students enrolled in the public school district. Leaders say during the 2023-2024 school year, they’ll serve nearly 5,000 breakfast meals and 13,000 lunches each day at no cost.   

Isa Alves, a wife and mother of two teenagers, says they’re grateful to take advantage of the state program.  

“We benefit from it,” Alves said. “I can’t imagine how our community benefits from it, just parents having that security knowing that ‘You know, my kid’s being fed.”  

Waterbury Public Schools stores most of its food in a central kitchen, serving as a hub to help hunger.  

It includes a wide variety of veggies, fruits, meats, and drinks.   

Gina, a grandmother in Waterbury, says the free food goes a long way. 

“You have single mothers, single dads,” Gina said. “What would they do without this program? I’m talking about it’s all year long.” 

Her three grandchildren take advantage of the program, which Gina says is a blessing.  

“I bought three cases of water, 24 bottles in it,” Gina said. “In three days, it’s gone; so this is a big help.” 

Under the new plan, kids who go to schools that participate in the federal school breakfast program will get free breakfast. Kids who currently get reduced-cost lunches will get lunch for free. 

Linda Franzese, Waterbury’s food services director, says the district already qualifies without the state extension because 93 percent of their families rely on free meals. 

“The students would [otherwise] have to go back to paying for the meals, and it could be an expense that the parents don’t have to worry about for their students while they’re at school,” Franzese said.    

Alves says it impacts their wallet and her children’s test scores. 

“[Being hungry] really is a huge distraction, so I feel like [my children are] totally focused and ready to engage in classroom activities because of these free meals,” Alves said.