Emmalina Stablito, 8, and Sophi Stablito, 6, eat free salads from Worcester Public School's summer food truck outside the main branch of Worcester Public Library.

Credit: Bianca Vazquez Toness/WGBH News

Why Some Kids May Be Happy To Start School: Free Lunch

August 25, 2017

Paula Korsevedt was thrilled to see so many children spend their summers visiting the main branch of Worcester Public Library.

“Families spend the day here,” says Korsevedt, community services manager for two Worcester public library branches. “There’s air conditioning. It’s safe. There’s something to do.”

But she and her colleagues noticed a problem with some of their young patrons: They were hungry.

“Sometimes the children, especially here at Main Library, would sometimes go to the children's librarians and ask them if they had anything to eat.”

Going hungry can stunt physical and neurological development in children.  So cities and towns try to keep feeding kids in the summer, especially the ones who rely on schools for their calories.  But finding those kids during the summer is difficult. Summer feeding programs are only reaching about 15 percent of children in Massachusetts who need them, according to Project Bread, a hunger prevention advocacy group.

Free Food Trucks

Luckily for Korsevedt and the kids attending her library, the Worcester Public Schools runs three food trucks that deliver breakfast, lunch, and dinner to parks, pools, the YMCA -- and now libraries --  during the summer.

At 12:30 p.m. each weekday in July and August, Maribel Dimik parks her 15-foot truck outside the library. She jumps out. opens the refrigerated compartment and tests the milk to make sure it’s still cold enough to drink.

“Okay, we’re open to the public. Guys, come on guys,” Dimik says.

Half a dozen children form a line.

“We have sun butter and jelly, regattas, tuna salad and chicken salad.”

The food comes courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Summer Food Services Program.

Salads Are A Luxury

Alana Stablito comes here each week with her six and eight-year-old daughters, who love salads. She’s grateful she doesn’t have to think about food when they come check out books each week.  

“We’re really a hard-working family and we’re on a limited income,” Stablito says. “And it’s hard to get salads. Salads are a little bit of a luxury.”

During the summer, this truck made eight stops each day, Monday through Friday, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you add up the three trucks delivering food around Worcester, they will serve about 1,200 meals and snacks each day.

That’s a far cry from serving the more than 13,000 students in the district who are considered economically disadvantaged.

“We have the capacity to serve as many sites that would like to partner with us,” says Donna Lombardi, director of school nutrition for Worcester public schools.   

Lombardi would like to bring free food to public housing developments where she knows there are kids who likely need it. She calls public housing “the next frontier” for this program. But federal regulations make it difficult, since they require that the food be eaten in public where the city staff can see them.

“Why can't the child come to the vehicle to receive their meal and then you visually see them go back into their house to consume the meal?” she asks.

We tried to ask the USDA that question, but they did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Lombardi says she’s trying to convince federal officials to ease these restrictions. In the meantime, Worcester will keep looking for ways to reach hungry kids during the summer.

WGBH’s coverage of K-12 education is made possible with support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

This story was edited by Ken Cooper and Sean Corcoran.


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