Free Meals Fill Bellies as Economy Runs on Empty

School is out for summer, but free lunch programs at schools around the state aren't taking the summer off. 

In Hartford alone, there are 40 sites around the city where youths 18 and under can get a free breakfast or lunch. Last year, that number was 33. 

Demand for free meals is up as much as 15 percent over last year and those who run the program believe it has everything to do with the economy.

"To be honest, my husband has been laid off for a year already, so it's been kind of rough," said Gail Grimaldo, who brings her daughter to breakfast every day at Naylor Elementary School. "By the time she comes home, she's had lunch already.  It helps out a lot.  You don't have to worry day to day that they can't eat."

It also allows parents to focus their funds on providing a more balanced meal at dinner and it gives parents a break allows kids to focus on being kids.

"It's stressful," said Lonnie Burt, Food Service Director for Hartford Public Schools.  "A child notices that stress in their family if there are concerns about money and how they're going to put food on the table. It takes a lot of stress off and it lets a student be a child, and not have to think like an adult, like 'How are we eating tonight?'"

On an average day, Hartford's program will serve 2,800 breakfasts and more than 5,200 lunches.  While there are more stringent qualifications for the free and reduced lunch program during the school year, anyone can come for a meal in Hartford. Organizers believe that helps remove the stigma of utilizing the program for some kids and parents.

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