Virus can’t slow down the need to feed children in Peabody

From left, Chris Chigas and his wife, Effie, pack away bags of meals for patrons in an assembly line in Peabody. (Olivia Falcigno)

PEABODY — School may be out for summer, but the local campaign to keep children healthy and fed never takes a vacation.

Three local charitable organizations are once again teaming up to feed the city’s school children and keep hunger out of Peabody through the Peabody Summer Eats program. 

Run by Citizens Inn Haven From Hunger, in partnership with No Child Goes Hungry in Peabody and the Peabody Institute Library,  the program has a radically different look this summer, thanks to a little something called COVID-19. 

“In past years there would be about 40 kids on average who would go to the Peabody Institute Library and eat their lunch there ,” said No Child Goes Hungry in Peabody founder, Jarrod Hochman. “None of the kids who live in mobile home communities were going all the way downtown to the library to get their meals and with the library closed with the pandemic, we had to figure out how to get food to not just the kids who participated in the past, but to all kids.”

The program opened for business Monday at the Welch Elementary School. It  provides five days of  “Grab-and-Go” meals each week to children ages 2-18.

Hochman said Peabody Summer Eats expects a minimum of 600 children  to participate in the program.

“We may get more, maybe up to 800, but right now with 600 we will be providing 3,000 meals a week,” he said, adding that the federal government supplies the food.

Pickup is available at several locations on designated days, including a loop around a cluster of mobile home communities on both sides of Route 1.

“The truck will be rolling at about 20 minute intervals at actual school bus route stops in the mobile home communities that people who live there are familiar with and we know are safe spots for people to stand or pull over safely,” said Hochman. “We thought it through so that everyone can get their meals at places that people know are safe.”

The Welch School site pickup is Monday from 12-2 p.m.  Other locations include the South Branch Library (Tuesdays from 12-1 p.m. and Thursdays at 2:20 p.m.),  the McCarthy School (Thursdays at 2 p.m.). Both sides of Newbury Street will have pickup on Thursdays including 141 Newbury (12 p.m.), 261B Newbury St. (12:20 p.m.), 261C Newbury St. (12:40 p.m.), 253 Newbury St. (1:20 p.m.), East Coast Road (1 p.m.) and Broad Street (1:40).

In less than three years since its founding in 2017, No Child Goes Hungry in Peabody program has expanded its activities at a dizzying pace, providing 1,300 grocery packages a week prior to the end of the 2020 school year. The program depends entirely on volunteer labor.

Its original mission was providing 120 students at the Center and Welch Elementary schools with backpacks filled with groceries for weekends. The program is now in place at every one of the eight elementary schools in Peabody, servicing about 313 kids on average a week this year. 

“We mimic the federal nutrition guidelines for breakfast and lunch, but we also know how important it is to treat kids like kids, so we also included pretzels, chips and cookies,” said Hochman.

When the pandemic hit and schools shut down in March, No Kid Goes Hungry In Peabody, expanded its offerings to include door-to-door deliveries. It also began offering its grocery service as a compliment to Peabody schools “Grab-and-Go” food service for students receiving free or reduced meals.

“The first week we filled 2,319 bags for kids to take home with their Grab-and-Go’s,” Hochman said. “We only had about a third of those who were eligible take advantage of it, but we always had 1,000 bags on site.”

Hochman expressed his gratitude to Citizens Inn Haven From Hunger, saying, “they are an integral  part of everything we do. We couldn’t provide assistance to the degree and scope that we do without the wonderful people at Citizens Inn Haven From Hunger who are doing so much to help feed the hungry.”

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