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Heat wave holds off Saugus meeting on how to help hungry children

Reverend Martha R. Leady of the First Congregational United Church of Christ and Superintendent of Saugus Schools Dr. David DeRousi speak about a new program that will provide hungry Saugus students with a bag of groceries to take home for the weekend. (Spenser R. Hasak)

SAUGUS — Wednesday’s heat wave put a meeting to learn more about how to help hungry children in town on the back burner.

“We had to cancel because of the heat,” said Rev. Martha Leahy, who has not yet determined when the event will be rescheduled, but encourages anyone who wishes to help to attend.

Starting in the fall, the Healthy Students, Healthy Saugus program will provide a weekend supply of nutritious food for each eligible child when free and reduced price school lunches and breakfasts are not available to them on the weekends and during other school breaks.

According to Feeding America, a hunger relief nonprofit, 12.9 million children lived in food-insecure households in 2016. About 13.3 million, or about 18 percent of children in the United States, lived in poverty.

During the 2015 federal fiscal year, 22 million low-income children received daily free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program. Meanwhile, fewer than 4 million children participated daily in the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option.

When the program rolls out in Saugus mid-September, 50 to 75 bags will be distributed. Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi expects that number to grow once the program becomes more sustainable.

About 47 percent of Saugus elementary school students are considered economically disadvantaged and 1,200 to 1,300 children qualify for free or reduced price lunches.

What many people don’t recognize, said DeRuosi, is that food-insecure households are not necessarily struggling every day.

“Food insecurity is different than most aspects of what we think of with hunger,” he said. “If my car breaks down, do I have $500 to repair it and will I still be able to buy food? When people think hunger, they think homeless. That’s not necessarily the case.”

Wednesday night’s meeting was originally meant to be informational for all the interested church congregations.

“Then (we) decided to put it out to the whole community because people are wanting to help,” said Leahy. “It’s a grand overview of why we are doing this.”

The program will be run by Whitsons Food Services, the School Department’s current food service provider, and a group of volunteers.

Brown bags will be put together by volunteers on Thursday nights and will contain two breakfasts, two lunches, two snacks, one can of vegetables, and one can of fruit. All items will be nonperishable so that families can stockpile the items they don’t use. There will be enough food in each bag to help the family members in the household, not just the student, said DeRuosi.

The bags will be picked up on Friday mornings at the volunteer sites, many of which will be parishes across town, and brought to each of the elementary schools.

Principals and two school liaisons who float across all the town’s public schools will help identify students who could benefit from the program and get in contact with parents.

Parents can stop by their child’s school office on Fridays during pick up to grab a bag.

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