With New Haven Public Schools and the Board of Education busy hashing out a budget for the next year, the New Haven Food Policy Council — an advisory council whose members are appointed by the mayor — is fighting to keep a collaborative project with the school system from stagnating.
Ever since the school board committed last December to expanding the availability of suppers in the city’s public schools, the New Haven Food Policy Council has ramped up its efforts to set the new project in motion. The council now hopes to complete a study by March 1 to determine the feasibility of expanding the suppers in schools so that students can more readily access meals in the evening. But the council is concerned that the city’s education officials don’t feel the same urgency.
“We have a long history of working with [New Haven Public School administrators],” said William Bromage, co-chair of the Food Access Working Group of the Food Policy Council. “We know right now, with the budget, this is not at the top of their list in terms of priorities. But this is stagnating in a way that we think is unnecessary. … We’ve been getting a runaround on this for two years on suppers.”
Will Clark, chief operating officer for New Haven Public Schools, did not respond to a request for comment.
At the moment, three New Haven schools — Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy and John C. Daniels Schools — serve suppers, and five are in the process of creating programs, Bromage said. A feasibility study would help the council determine which schools are eligible to receive federal and state grants to implement supper programs. Bromage said the Food Access Working Group hopes to expand the supper program to more than 20 schools in the district, but it remains “stuck” because the school district has not approached the group to schedule a meeting to complete the study.
Last December, then-President of the Board of Education Ed Joyner proposed the study to determine the feasibility of extending the supper program to all of New Haven’s public schools. At the same meeting, current Board of Education President Darnell Goldson suggested that study be completed and presented to the board by March 1.
Goldson added he is “anxiously” awaiting reports from the Food Policy Council and updates about negotiations between the council and public school administrators.
During the public comment portion of the Feb. 12 Board of Education meeting, parents advocated for an expansion of the supper program. Kimberly Hart, a co-chair of the Food Access Working Group, said her son, a high school sophomore involved in athletics, would benefit from the supper program.
“If we had suppers at schools, my son would not have to come home hungry. When you’re hungry, you can’t do anything,” Hart said. “I can’t concentrate. … How can I expect my son to be the best basketball player if he’s hungry?”
According to a 2017 Community Alliance for Research and Engagement study, New Haven Public Schools is the largest food provider for the city’s children, serving more than five million meals from 2016 to 2017. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service provides funds for the school district to offer free breakfast and lunch, as well as summer meals, to students.
Goldson said the school board is waiting to see the results of the feasibility study before it takes a concrete stand on the issue. Still, he expressed optimism about the project’s prospects, noting that the Food Policy Council hopes to fund the program using federal and state grants.
“It doesn’t cost us any money and we could provide the services to children,” Goldson said. “Why wouldn’t we do it?”
The Community Alliance for Research and Engagement report showed that 22 percent of New Haven residents are food insecure — meaning that within the past 30 days a resident reported not having enough food or enough money to buy food — compared to 12 percent of people statewide.
In the 2016–2017 school year, 93.7 percent of children in New Haven Public Schools were eligible for free meals, which is up from 83.8 percent in the 2014–2015 school year.
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