WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Educators and school district workers in Waterbury are logging extra hours outside of the classroom to combat a crisis in Connecticut: childhood hunger.
“It is a crisis,” said Valerie Shultz-Wilson, CEO of the Connecticut Food Bank. “One in every six children in Connecticut goes to bed hungry. People don’t often realize that Connecticut, in spite of being one of the wealthiest states in the country, that we do have food insecurity.”
The Connecticut Food Bank is now teaming up with school districts to bring its mobile pantry into neighborhoods and onto school grounds in an effort to give urban families easier access to healthy, free, nutritious foods like vegetables and fruit.
Earlier this week, only News 8 was there at the kickoff outside H.S. Chase School in Waterbury. About 100 people lined up to take advantage of the program.
“Everyone knows where the schools are,” Shultz-Wilson said. “We know we have working families in schools that oftentimes can’t make ends meet, and this is an opportunity for them to come and get some additional food to get the budget to stretch.”
Cities like Waterbury are often referred to as food deserts because access to supermarkets or grocery stores is limited.
“A lot of people in this town don’t have cars so it’s hard for them,” said Ayesha Frasier, a parent who came out to the event. “For it to be right here, literally in their backyard, and they’re able to come without any judgment, I think that’s great.”
Educators said this effort is also key to helping students succeed in the classroom.
“I definitely believe that it correlates,” said Dr. Verna Ruffin, Superintendent of Waterbury Public Schools. “Healthy body, healthy mind, and healthy spirit.”
“A hungry child does not perform to his ability,” said Doreen Melendez, a staff member at Chase Elementary School. “A hungry child — how are they going to concentrate?”
This is part of the food bank’s Child Hunger Impact Program (CHIP) and it plans to do this in other school districts across the state where there might be a need — and they say there is a need.
“We feed about 144,000 people each month,” said Shultz-Wilson. “Wages are stagnant. We have working families that are trying to do more with less — trying to put food on the table and pay rent and buy shoes and clothes for their children and often times that dollar just doesn’t stretch far enough.”
Parents at the Waterbury event said they were grateful for the easier access to free, healthy food.
“For it to be right here literally in our backyard and they’re able to come without any judgment I think that’s great,” said Frasier.
“It’s helping us a lot, honestly,” said Lillian Soto, another parent.
The mobile food bank pantry will make stops outside H.S. Chase School in Waterbury on the first Tuesday of every month from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Waterbury residents don’t have to have a child enrolled at that school to attend.
The food bank plans to team up with other school districts around the state down the road.