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Youths do lunch with McGovern

  • Brayden Garland, 5, holds up a green bracelet he got for eating veggies at Greenfield's Summer Meals program Friday, July 21, 2017.

  • Brayden Garland, 5, plays on Oaks Court's playground in Greenfield Friday, July 21, 2017.

  • Brayden Garland, 5, plays on Oaks Court's playground in Greenfield Friday, July 21, 2017.

  • Congressman Jim McGovern visits Oaks Court in Greenfield as part of his yearly Summer Meals tour Friday, July 21, 2017.

  • Congressman Jim McGovern visits Oaks Court in Greenfield as part of his yearly Summer Meals tour Friday, July 21, 2017.



Recorder Staff
Friday, July 21, 2017

GREENFIELD — After eating a green pepper with his lunch, 5-year-old Brayden Garland was jazzed up. He showed off his stretchy, green bracelet he got after eating his vegetables today. He then said to a nearby photographer, “Want to see how fast I can run?”

A month or so away from starting elementary school, Brayden burst out of the common room in and sprinted toward the jungle gym. As he continued to play outside on the hot July day, Congressman Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, arrived at Oak Courts.

On a day when the Worcester native and nutrition advocate in Congress was heading west to visit a handful of summer meals programs, McGovern stopped in Greenfield to see how the free breakfast and lunch services were running this year.

“These are incredibly vital programs,” McGovern said after chatting with families at Oak Courts. “Our kids need access to nutrition year round and in the summer time you have this.”

His analysis of the program in Greenfield: “What’s happening here in Greenfield is incredibly successful. I’m in awe of the team here.”

But after visiting a site in Orange, to where residents from Athol needed to commute to use the program, he was reminded of the transportation issues that often plague these programs. Luckily for the Oak Courts program, the 125 to 150 kids who use it are within walking distance.

Suggestions of a food truck for more isolated areas, particularly in rural hill towns was batted around by McGovern and the other state lawmakers and officials who came along.

There was also discussion about how to improve public transit to help alleviate potential barriers to the food programs.

State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, who was present, advocated for better access and more dollars to transportation as well. He reminded people that the “Fair Share” amendment, which will be up on the ballot in Nov. 2018, would help to solve these issues.

“If people are concerned about transportation that’s where they need to go out and make their voice heard,” Mark said.

Mark expressed appreciation for McGovern’s annual efforts to check out the summer meals programs across the region.

“As someone who used them myself when I was a kid I really appreciate he puts such an emphasis on this in his work,” Mark said.

The program in Oak Courts is run through Greenfield Public Schools and also held in Greenfield Gardens, Leyden Woods, the high school, the swimming area and the YMCA.

Parents at Oak Courts talked about the program, which can help to feed their children two meals of the day with nutritious food they would normally get during the school year.

“Plus you get to hang out with people in the community that you don’t get to see everyday,” Brayden’s mother, Michelle Garland said.

And parents welcomed having McGovern and the other politicians appear.

“I think it’s awesome. It’s the best thing,” Chelsea Pease said, while her son Zebadiah ran around outside. “It shows the kids that people really do care.”

Pease did tell McGovern that the breakfasts can be too small for the kids, particularly the older ones.

“It’s so small,” Pease said. “Most of the kids are like ‘I want seconds’ and there’s no such things as seconds.”

Seconds are offered if there’s leftovers, Madison Walker, director Food & Nutrition Services for Greenfield Public Schools said. She added that the reason bigger portions are not served is because they follow nutrition guidelines and they also work to avoid food waste. Any food not eaten during the meals will be thrown out.

Resident Services Coordinator Bekki Craig, who effectively runs the program in Oak Courts and runs all other work out of the common area, year-round, suggested that parents should be able to at least eat leftovers, once all of the kids have eaten.

McGovern said he wanted to collect first-hand knowledge so that he could bring it back to Washington. “We want to make sure when the kids go home there is food on the table as well.”