In the 1960s, Robert F Kennedy visited Mississippi and Appalachia to build support for War on Poverty programs, such as: the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. After these visits, Kennedy often spoke of what he saw:
Appalled by the poverty and hunger exposed during the Civil Rights Movement and Kennedy’s work, a group of citizens came together to raise awareness about hunger here in Massachusetts and advocate for solutions to end it. This was the start of Project Bread. As you know, 50 years later, that vision has yet to be fully realized. Despite the progress made since the 1960s, hunger has persisted in our state and country. What we have definitively learned from the past 50 years of pursuing our vision of a Massachusetts where hunger is permanently solved is one important truth. The only way to systematically address and permanently end hunger — is through policy change.
On Tuesday, January 3, 2022, we saw a new moment in history. The first ever hearing on making School Meals for All permanent in Massachusetts.
The Joint Committee on Education listened to over two dozen members of the Feed Kids Coalition — led by Project Bread — speak in favor of An Act Relative to Universal School Meals. Among them was Project Bread’s President and CEO, Erin McAleer. Erin shared her own story of childhood food insecurity.
"When I was five years old, my mother, facing domestic violence, made the difficult decision to get a divorce. She was not economically in a place to do this, but for the safety of herself and her kids, she felt this was the choice she had to make. We lived in West Peabody, in a middle-class neighborhood in a single-family home. In addition to dealing with the trauma of abuse, my mother now wondered how she could afford to keep us in our house, pay the bills, and feed us. And she didn’t tell anyone – our neighbors didn’t know. Our teachers didn’t know. Our family didn’t know. That was intentional – she didn’t want anyone to know, for fear she would be judged. She bought into the narrative that she wasn’t deserving of help. Looking back, and now as a mom myself, I know that not being able to feed your kids is a stress like no other. It is the most basic of needs. And I know that feeding her kids caused my mom a lot of stress. Free, accessible school meals for her three children would have made a world of difference for me, my siblings, and my mom."
This was in 1985 and the same system that sorts households into eligible for free meals, eligible for reduced-price meals, or needing to pay full price for school meals still exists for most families in Massachusetts today. This system erects barriers such as cost and stigma that prevent children from receiving the nutrition they need during the school day. During the pandemic the USDA has provided waivers to serve School Meals for All, effectively removing these barriers. It is up to the Legislature to make this permanent for Massachusetts students.
This is a moment in time when all our eyes have been opened to the vast disparities faced by the children of Massachusetts when accessing the resources needed to be healthy and take advantage of an education. While the road to equity is long and complex, there is a straightforward and significant step we can take to reduce childhood hunger and improve the health and educational performance of the Commonwealth’s students: passing An Act Relative to Universal School Meals as soon as possible.
Kids across the state do not have time to wait. We need your help to move School Meals for All past this key decision point. Urge your legislators to support H.714/S.314: An Act Relative to Universal School Meals.
A second bill Project Bread supports was also on the January 4, 2022 hearing docket. Project Bread’s Vice President of Public Policy, Jen Lemmerman, testified in support of An Act Establishing Farm to School Grants to Promote Healthy Eating and Strengthen the Agricultural Community (H.686/S.349), which would provide funding to public schools and childcare programs to purchase Massachusetts ingredients, prepare scratch-cooked meals, and educate students about the food system.