As Cambridge Public School District students head back to school this week, I wanted to highlight the steps we’ve taken as a City to reduce childhood hunger and economic insecurity. In my former role as Program Director at Food For Free, I worked with then Vice Mayor Marc McGovern and School Committee Member Kathleen Kelly to reassess our income guidelines as they relate to free and reduced lunch. The cost of living in Cambridge is so high that a family of four needs to make $108,000 to meet all of their needs, however the federal poverty guideline is only $32,630, and doesn’t take into account the cost of living when assessing need.
As a result, too many families fall through the gap where they don’t qualify for assistance, but are still struggling to put food on the table. This all happens in a city of seemingly abundant affluence, and especially with the issue of hunger, the true need can be invisible. By bringing together two different City branches and a local nonprofit, I helped write a set of recommendations in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program Report that proposes allocating additional funds for free breakfast for all students in K-8 and DHSP programs. We are also eliminating the “reduced lunch” category so that the cost burden on needy families is zero, which will allow children to receive the nutritional assistance they need.
From my years of experience in combating childhood food insecurity, and also living it myself, I know that well fed kids are better students, more engaged in their school communities – and of course, happier and healthier. I’m proud of the collaborative process that Mayor Marc McGovern, School Committee Member Kathleen Kelly, and I undertook, and the result that collaboration has engendered. Free breakfast for all and increasing access to free lunch will allow our students to thrive in our schools without the anxiety of missed meals or nag of constant hunger. I ran for office on my ability to connect the dots between the many resources of our City and the stakeholders that can solve problems. I’m looking forward to continuing to address childhood hunger and other issues by being a connector in our community. For more information about this initiative, read here.