‘Belly Bus’ is back for the ninth year
School is out for the summer. For some students, this means idle days in the sun and an opportunity to forget everything they know about math. For others, this means it is harder to find food.
School-based summer food programs help address this need, but end shortly before the school year, when regular access to free and reduced meals for qualifying students resumes.
The Franklin County Hunger Task Force’s Belly Bus food drive returns for the ninth year this August, timed as always to help fill this gap.
Dino Schnelle is the coordinator of the Center for Self Reliance food pantry in Greenfield, a program of Community Action.
Community Action is among the entities forming the Hunger Task Force.
As Schnelle explains it, a relatively low percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced meals during the school year take advantage of the summer breakfast and lunch programs.
With students from low-income families relying on their parents for the extra two meals five days a week, demand increases for food from the local food pantries. When the summer meal programs end, generally about two weeks before schools open, it’s the straw that breaks the back of the already strained food pantries.
Bernie Novak is the director of Food and Nutrition Services for the Greenfield Public Schools, and in that capacity runs the free summer lunch and breakfast program in Greenfield, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Novak said the length of the program varies from district to district, typically running six weeks. Need in Greenfield is such that the program has run eight to nine weeks, he said. This year it’s eight weeks, five days a week.
Attendance also varies.
The meals are free to anyone age 18 and under who walks through the door, with no requirement that the diner be a student or town resident and no questions asked, Novak said.
With 10 locations operating throughout town, Novak said Tuesday’s lunch drew 790 people.
In terms of the student population, only about 20 to 30 percent of those eligible for free or reduced lunch take advantage of the program, Novak said, whether because of the commute or a host of other reasons.
The meals end Aug. 16, leaving a gap of seven weekdays between the end of the program and the beginning of school Aug. 28. The gap is a result of staff availability.
Novak said a staff of 16, including two supervisors and excluding himself, operate the program.
“We utilize a high percentage of college students; 60 to 70 percent of my staff in summer are college students,” Novak said. “The big exodus is the 20th of August, the Tuesday after the week we close.”
College students participating in sports or other programs typically must leave a week earlier, and this final week before school resumes is also the time the state selects to run mandatory training programs for school food service employees, he said.
This gap, in Greenfield and other districts operating a summer program, is the catalyst for the Belly Bus food drive.
The drive mobilizes local businesses and organizations to organize internal food drives in advance of the Aug. 9 Belly Bus Community Food Drive, and occupies the Greenfield Town Common that afternoon to accept and sort donations from individuals and participating groups.
Food, money and personal care supplies collected by groups and individual donations will be accepted and sorted on the Greenfield Town Common between 3 and 5 p.m. Aug. 9. Cash donations are welcome as they allow the food pantries to buy food from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts at a much lower price than a shopper in a grocery store. Participating businesses and agencies will also have public collection boxes.
Holly Kosisky of Community Action coordinates the drive, and any interested groups may contact her at 413-376-1179. Collection boxes go out the week of July 22 or earlier.
The drive benefits the Franklin County Community Meals Program, Franklin Area Survival Center, Greenfield Salvation Army, Center for Self Reliance, and the Stone Soup Cafe.
You can reach Chris Curtis at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257