SOUTHINGTON — Bread for Life began its free summer lunch program for youths this week.
“Our mission is that no one goes hungry in Southington,” said Donna Ayer, executive director of Bread for Life. “We know kids receive free lunch during the school year, during the summer they don’t have that opportunity.”
Ayer said since the pandemic began there has been a 50 percent increase in people who need services from Bread for Life. While they have not seen that kind of increase in the summer lunch program, many children in town that qualify for free school lunches need meals during the summer.
Along with the summer lunch program for youths, Bread for Life, a nonprofit at 31 Vermont Ave., serves meals daily at its building. It also provides meals to go and delivers to homebound residents.
Grab and Go lunches for youths are available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at DePaolo Middle School from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at Bread for Life from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. There are also lunches and activities offered at the Summerbrook apartments, 35 Darling St., on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 12 to 1 p.m.
The program at Summerbrook includes activities such as kickball, cupcake decorating and a literacy program, Ayer said.
The lunch program is supported through a network of donations. Last summer, the group served 3,451 free lunches. Ayer said donations come in the form of food items and gift cards to grocery stores. One group that helps is Fruit Friends, coordinated by Jolene Miceli.
Miceli said it is the third year Fruit Friends are donating fresh fruit to the program. Initially the group was called Fruit Mama’s and made up of Miceli and a few other women. It has grown to include about 40 residents. Members take turns going to grocery stores each week to purchase fresh fruit for the lunch program, Miceli said. Items include watermelon, berries, apples and oranges.
“There is always a need,” Miceli said. “There are tough times right...”
Miceli said her group partners with Southington Pride and Southington Women for Progress on the lunch effort.
Ayer said the free lunch program exists to help parents who may not be ready for the additional expense that comes in the summer months. She noted the community holds fundraisers for Bread for Life, including the United Way, Southington Pride, and CCOC, a financial services company.
“The only reason we can do this is because we have such amazing volunteers,”Ayer said. “We have for years said that hunger has no zip code…I think the pandemic brought that issue to the forefront of people’s minds.”