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Springfield Schools' Summer Meals Program Begins


The food service program operated by the public school system in Springfield, Massachusetts, which has been lauded for its high participation rates, does not take the summer off.  A free summer meals program for school-age children began today.

The Springfield Public Schools’ summer food service program operates at more than 2 dozen locations including schools, parks, and public housing complexes.  Most locations serve both breakfast and lunch.

Because of Springfield’s high poverty rate, all of the city’s roughly 30,000 school-age children are eligible for free meals.

" I think it is great for people who can't afford it because there are a lot of kids out here that don't have food," said  Jennifer Diaz, a mother of four. 

Itisha Clark, who has a 9-year-old daughter in school, said the meals program is also a good social activity.

" It gives the kids something to do. They can go and interact with other children and have a lunch," she said.

Breakfast consists of cereal, milk and juice. Lunch is a sandwich three days a week, and a hot meal the other two, according to Barbara Zavecz, a food production manager with Sodexo, the school system’s food service contractor.

" You get your fruit, vegetables, everything. It is very good," she said.

Officials expect to serve 200,000 meals in the program which runs through August 23.

During the school year, more than 80 percent of Springfield’s public school students start their day with breakfast in school, according to Timothy Gray, the district’s food service administrator.

" It just kick starts the day.  There are less trips to the nurses' office around 10 a.m. because kids are hungry. There is better attention span," said Gray.

The number of students taking advantage of free meals to start their school day began to tick up a few years ago when the Springfield schools introduced a breakfast in the classroom initiative.

Breakfasts are served in homerooms in roughly half the city’s 60 schools with plans to expand it to every school in the next two years.

Earlier this year, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Administrator Audrey Rowe, who oversees the government’s national nutrition programs, visited Springfield’s Central High School to see how the breakfast in the classroom program is run.

"  I am impressed with what they are doing here," she said.

In a testament to the growth of the year-round meals program in the Springfield schools, the school department is building its own food services center – a first for a public school district in Massachusetts.

The city is spending $7 million to renovate a 62,000 square foot former warehouse to consolidate all food-related operations at one site.

Officials say the new culinary center will allow for more scratch cooking, reducing the amount of processed food that goes on the school menus.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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