LYNN — Julio Perez is used to being hungry.
As a student at the Harrington Elementary School, he was eligible for the free or reduced breakfast and lunch program where he was guaranteed two meals a day.
But dinner was not always a sure thing.
Today, Perez, 20, is a computer science major who hopes to graduate next spring and still struggles with the lack of food. He lives with his mother and works a low-wage job at Qdoba, the Mexican food chain, to make ends meet.
“I am hungry much of the time because I have to spend my money on more important things like books, school supplies and transportation,” he said.
Perez was not alone when he was a grade school student. During the 2016-17 school year, 79 percent of the city’s school children received free or reduced meals, according to Lynn Public Schools.
Dr. Elizabeth Quinn, a family physician at the Lynn Family Health Center, said it’s essential for school children to be adequately fed.
“Kids who don’t get enough food have a hard time learning and are more likely to (have) behavioral problems,” she said, having learned about food insecurity during her medical training. While at the Boston Medical Center, patients were screened for hunger. First, physicians wanted to know if in the past year the patient worried their family would not have enough to buy food and if they had, in fact, run out of money to buy food.
“A ‘yes’ answer to either means that family is at-risk,” Quinn said. “We found 67 percent of patients were food insecure, it surprised us. It’s a significant problem.”