Food insecurity is an ongoing problem in our state.
Data from Connecticut Foodshare shows 490,000 people struggle to put food on the table. This impacts more than 130,000 children.
Recognizing the need for food assistance, more and more schools across the state are opening food pantries.
On Thursday, members of the community and representatives from Stop & Shop, which donated $20,000 to Hartford Public High School's pantry, celebrated the grand opening.
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A neat spin-off of food delivery services like DoorDash and Uber Eats, this food pantry is called 'Grub Pub.' The difference is it's a free, on-campus resource and designed to feed students when they are in need.
"Going home hungry, not knowing where your next meal was coming from. But not knowing if your mom or your sibling is gonna be able to eat that night ... all of that plays into the stress levels and the comfort a child may have when they're walking into this building," Hartford Public High School principal Flora Padro said.
Inflation has made it even more challenging for many families. Experts say that may be why we're seeing more schools in Connecticut open food pantries. Another reason could be that free school meals ended last year.
"For some schools, the free meals ended as early as November. For some, it lasted until December. But officially, all schools are back to pre-pandemic styles," said Julieth Callejas, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut. "They had to fill in the school meal application, or they had to be CEP and then all the schools and other students will qualify for free and reduced meals."
At Hartford Public High School, 75% of students rely on free or reduced-priced meals.
Allison Arnett, a lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven, says food insecurity affects everyone differently.
"While the USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent and reliable food for every person in the household, there's a big spectrum that's associated with food insecurity," said Arnett. "Food insecurity isn't necessarily a permanent condition. It could be weeks, it could be days, even that somebody feels food insecure. Therefore, having available resources for all those individuals has become increasingly more important."
But beyond feeding students and their families, the school food pantry in Hartford also works to get students involved in an internship experience.
"So those students will not just help in the restocking and the organizing. They'll help with food distribution; they'll help and itemize and keep inventory. They will help maintain the data system and they'll help liaison with families as well," said Padro.
But students who are looking to simply use the food pantry can fill out a referral form. That can also be filled out by a parent or staff member. Right now, there are no restrictions on who can get food. All students are able to benefit.
"So, the schools providing these pantries for their students and for their families, it's like a safe haven for them. They're able to know that there's a trusted community and that they can go there and there's food available to them," Callejas said.
In addition to food, the school distributes hygiene products and is working with students who have limited access to laundry services in another way the school is meeting students' basic needs.