Comerford visits Newton Elementary School, talks hunger

  • Staff Photo/Joshua Solomon—

  • Staff Photo/Joshua Solomon—

  • Staff Photo/Joshua Solomon—

  • Staff Photo/Joshua Solomon—

  • Staff Photo/Joshua Solomon—

Staff Writer
Published: 2/4/2019 7:29:28 AM

GREENFIELD — Leaving Newton Elementary School, state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, walked away with a full plate of stories to serve up when she returned to Beacon Hill. 

There were tales of students having more focus in class, students learning to compost, more students not going hungry. Everyday when children walk into Newton Elementary, like many schools across the state, they head to their classroom, not the cafeteria, and find the day’s offering for breakfast — a policy up for debate in Boston. 

While visiting a first-grade classroom, Comerford had one story in particular that stuck out to her. 

When breakfast is over, the remaining food is placed into a container. It’s normally filled up to the top. They like to have extra food so children can grab snacks during the day. By the end of the school day, the bin is empty. 

“Kids will stuff their pockets with food so they can bring it home to their families,” said Comerford, the former director of the The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. 

Comerford, a representative from the office of state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and officials from the The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and Project Bread, toured Newton Elementary Friday with Principal Melodie Goodwin to learn more about how the breakfast in the classroom program is working and why they see it as necessary policy across the state. 

“We want to help food-insecure people be able to get food,” Laura Sylvester, legislative and community partnership coordinator for The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, said. “This is a huge piece of that.” 

Breakfast After the Bell currently is supposed to be implemented in all schools by May 31, but many schools in the state are not doing it yet, and the advocates gathered Friday at Newton Elementary cautioned that a rushed roll-out will not be good for the long-term viability of the program. Instead, Comerford and they are pushing for a bill to allow for a three-year implementation plan.  

“This is everybody’s bill, not just a western Mass. bill,” Comerford said. 

The bill was originally filed last session, but after passing in the Senate, it ran out of time to receive approval in the House. Now newly-elected Comerford are looking to push it forward. Mark is planning to co-sponsor the bill, Constituent Services Director for the representative Paige Dolinski said. 

“We have enough data to know that children can’t learn when they’re hungry,” Comerford said. 

But with seeing what was happening with some students bringing home food from the school — and others saying they don’t like vacation time, because that means they don’t get the same type of food at home — it reminded her of the degree of hunger for some. She pointed to the fact that federal food benefits, like SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, are not sufficient for people and their families.   

At the least, she sees this program for children in schools as essential. 

In Franklin County, the schools that run the breakfast in classroom program are: Greenfield’s Newton and Federal Street elementary school and Greenfield Middle School; in Montague, Sheffield Elementary; Erving Elementary School; in New Salem, Swift River Charter School; in Orange, Dexter Park and Fisher Hill elementary schools and Mahar Regional School. All Springfield and Holyoke schools also run the program. 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264

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