Project Bread, alongside bill sponsors Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Andy Vargas, refiled legislation this January to make free school meals for all students permanent. This legislation would extend the current practice of allowing every student who wants or needs a school breakfast or lunch to receive it – at no cost to their family and with no requirement to sign up or provide income or other information. Included as a 1-year extension by the Legislature, over 80,000 additional students were eating lunch daily in schools where meals were not previously free for all students in October 2022, as compared to October 2019.
Attendees included State Representatives James Arena Derosa, Christopher Worrell, Kate Donaghue, Rita Mendes, James Adrena-DeRosa, Judith García, Hannah Kane, and Alice Peisch. We were also joined by Lizbeth Silbermann, Regional Administrator for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Northeast Regional Office, and representatives from the offices of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Stephen Lynch.
Project Bread President and CEO Erin McAleer opened the event with her own story of food insecurity growing up and why this bill is critical to ending child hunger in Massachusetts. School Meals for All bill sponsors Representative Andy Vargas and Senator Sal DiDomenico shared remarks on their personal commitment to seeing this bill through the state legislature and the support it will provide for Massachusetts families. They also encouraged attendees to contact their legislators and advocate for the passage of this bill.
Dr. Awab Ali Ibrahim, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Mass General Brigham and Project Bread board member, gave perspective on the challenges facing working families and the importance of being proactive in our policymaking, as opposed to reactive in the treatment of children facing hunger.
"As a pediatrician and someone who deeply cares about Massachusetts kids, we need to be proactive and pass this bill and prevent childhood hunger, instead of reactive when it’s too late."
Michael Baldassare, Superintendent of Schools in Uxbridge, shared an anecdote about one of his students receiving peanut butter in their school backpack program and being so excited to eat it since they don't have it at home. He emphasized that hunger exists in every community.
“In order for kids to learn we have to remove all barriers to learning...Hungry kids in school is a learning issue.”
Sarah Carroll, Legislative Chair of the School Nutrition Association and School Nutrition Director in Braintree, thanked legislators for putting children first, highlighting how her districts’ meal participation increased from 45% in September 2019 to 66% in September 2022 with the implementation of free school meals. She encouraged legislators to continue this momentum.
“Free meals have truly leveled the playing field for our students by removing the stigma that is associated with a tiered payment system.”
The program concluded with a video message from Congressman McGovern, encouraging the state to take action where the federal government has not and act as nationwide leaders on solving hunger.
Without state level legislation in place, there is the risk that barriers to food access will return once the annual budget ends on June 30, 2023. The Commonwealth will return to a tiered-pay system that leaves out at least 26 percent of food insecure children. Last session, over half of the Massachusetts state legislature supported School Meals for All legislation and more than 120 anti-hunger partners, health care advocates, school and municipal officials, food systems experts, faith communities, children’s advocates and more have joined the Feed Kids Coalition.
Since the School Meals for All bill has been refiled, we are again gathering support among Massachusetts legislators. Now is the time for Massachusetts to pass the School Meals for All bill, and you can help!