COLUMN

State Struggles To Feed Hungry In Summer

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Let's think about food. Not the food you eat, but the food others struggle to obtain. Congress continues to shape and debate a bill on food policy as it determines how it will allocate hundreds of billions of dollars to farmers and low-income consumers.

Summer strains the public and private networks that throughout the year provide food for people who would otherwise go hungry. No one in Connecticut should be without adequate food. A state that hands out hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare to executive fat cats ought first to provide for the neediest among us with essential food.

Many children receive breakfast and lunch at school five days a week during the school year. During the summer, that routine ends. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a substitute with the Summer Food Service Program for students who are eligible for free breakfast and lunch during the school year.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy brought some attention to the program last week by visiting the Clark Elementary and Middle School in Hartford. It will serve between 200 and 225 meals a day, according to Dawn Crayco, deputy director of End Hunger Connecticut! There are 400 sites around the state. Some will serve two meals a day, others will serve one meal and a snack. You can find the site nearest you by going to ctsummerfood.org.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, provides $4.50 a day per person in an eligible family. It is intended to supplement a family's food budget, not pay for all its expenses. Eligibility varies from state to state.

Other programs provide additional help. They face summer challenges, too. Demand for food at Foodshare, the nonprofit organization that carries a heavy load in feeding the hungry in Hartford and Tolland counties, is at its highest in July and August. Donations of food, however, are at their lowest, Gloria McAdam, the president of Foodshare, said last week. She's been at the organization for 29 years and knows the cycles.

Foodshare provides food for local pantries in the region. Through them and other programs, it assists 137,000 people each year. Some use the service often, others more sporadically. The end of each month sees a spike in demand for help with food because people are running out of money.

Proof of that is found after midnight on the first day of the month at grocery stores that are open all night, McAdam relates. SNAP benefits become available and recipients head to the grocery store. You can't, however, fill a healthy diet with boxes of four-for-a-dollar macaroni and cheese unless you are a college student.

Foodshare grows produce at three farms and distributes it through mobile units that visit 70 sites every two weeks. Churches and civic organizations also make crucial contributions to feeding people throughout the year by preparing meals and donating food to take home.

All these efforts still leave this region of the state $64 million short in food for the needy, Feed America estimates. The people who need some help are from a broad socio-economic spectrum, from the mentally ill who lead tenuous lives to the unemployed who find themselves making a sudden adjustment to straitened circumstances. The unemployment rate in the United States has been over 7.5 percent for the longest period since records have been kept. Connecticut's unemployment rate remains stubbornly higher than the nation's. It's not hard to see why these resources are stretched.

One group that requires special attention is seniors. They are often reluctant to apply for SNAP benefits, but they will go to senior center programs. Though Connecticut has an aging population, the state is one of only nine that does not participate in the federal Supplemental Food Program that distributes commodities such as rice and canned fruits and vegetables.

The USDA provides the food and volunteers through organizations such as Foodshare organize and distribute it to the elderly. The program, efficiently administered, can become a model of the fusing of government, private and volunteer action for the benefit of those in need. Perhaps one of the state's U.S. senators could interrupt his schedule of publicity stunts and get Connecticut in the program.

Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at kfrennie@yahoo.com.

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Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

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