Breakfast After the Bell takes stigma from free school meals

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford greets a student at the Newton School in Greenfield. She has come out as a strong advocate for the Breakfast After the Bell program. file photo

Published: 2/14/2019 7:58:48 AM

Breakfast After the Bell is a new state program aimed at encouraging more young people to take advantage of free in-school morning meals. The program targets students in public elementary and secondary schools who might skip a free before-school breakfast for fear of the stigma that might bring because the meals are for students from cash-strapped families.

State figures show that participation in the free breakfast programs can double if the food is served to everyone in class as school begins. Less stigma, more benefit.

This is a valuable program in schools where many of the children from food insecure homes arrive at school hungry, and therefore can’t do their best work. Hunger can hold back even the most gifted.

If Breakfast After the Bell helps, then it’s worth deploying across the state, but especially in rural western Massachusetts, where incomes are among the lowest in the state.

During a recent visit to Newton Elementary School in Greenfield, newly elected state Sen. Jo Comerford, who used to work at the Food Bank of Western Mass., attended breakfast in a first-grade classroom to see how the program was working there. She saw lots of pupils happily, some perhaps hungrily, eating breakfast, and she also noted that some students snacked on leftover food during the day and even took some home at day’s end.

“Kids will stuff their pockets with food so they can bring it home to their families,” said Comerford, who as the Food Bank’s former director has a deep appreciation of food insecurity in our region, perhaps more so than your typical metro Boston state legislator.

Clearly, making this food more available without stigma is important in the lives of many students, and we are glad the state not only funds breakfast but is tweaking the system to encourage everyone in need to participate.

“We want to help food-insecure people be able to get food,” Laura Sylvester, legislative and community partnership coordinator for the Food Bank, noted that day. “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 that day at Newton Elementary cautioned that a rushed roll-out will not be good for the long-term viability of the program. Instead, Comerford and others are pushing for a bill to allow for a three-year implementation.

As important as the program is, we agree with allowing a longer rollout if that will eventually allow it to flourish, because it’s that important, especially in the many towns in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region where often many children are likely leaving home hungry.


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