by Jessica Stensrud
The Free Summer Meals Program is state-wide, federally-funded program that takes place all across Rhode Island, providing children 18 and younger with breakfast and lunch (and sometimes snack) at no cost. In RI, the program is supposed to provide an average of 450,000 meals over the course of the summer.
In Pawtucket, however, the rollout has been confusing and disjointed. On Friday, June 23 at Slater Park, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien introduced the Free Summer Meals Program, while at the same time tweeting calendars with the menu items for breakfast and lunch. These calendars noted the program would start on June 26 at all open meal sites, which include libraries, schools, and parks.
But on June 26, when I and fellow activists visited the sites, what we found surprised us and left us frustrated and disheartened: every school site was empty of children and no food was being served or was set up to be served. Staff we could find on site hadn’t heard of the program.
We decided to head to the Pawtucket School Department, eventually getting a meeting with the Assistant Superintendent Secretary Sue Lozy, who explained that the actual start date for many of the sites was July 5, not June 26. She acknowledged that the schedule tweeted by the Mayor had been confusing, and that she would create an updated, more accurate schedule, which has now been posted to the Pawtucket city website and to the Pawtucket School Department’s website.
Lozy also promised that information banners would be put up at all schools and robo-calls in relevant languages would go out across the community.
On July 5, we visited the various sites again, and this time were pleased to see that the schools we visited were set up and serving food. It did still seem like not many children were showing up. We aren’t sure if Lozy or the School Department or the schools themselves are doing the appropriate outreach to let families in the area know that there is free food available to them.
We need to make sure every family in Pawtucket worried about putting food on the table is aware of the program, and make sure that we roll it out better and in a more organized way.
Please call, email, write and/or fax Mayor Donald Grebien’s office, as well as the two Assistant Superintendents and their secretary (all contact information is below) and say:
- “I want to ask that the [Mayor, Superintendent, etc] appoint someone to make sure the Free Summer Meals Program is operating in an organized way, to ensure that the benefits of the program as being seen by the impoverished children in Pawtucket who depend on it.
- I want to ask that more is done to inform the people in the neighborhood of the program, so that their children are able to eat the free food available. What effort is being made to ensure people know about the program?
Address: Pawtucket City Hall, 137 Roosevelt Avenue, 2nd Floor Room 200, Pawtucket, RI 02860
City Hall Main Number: (401) 728-0500, ext. 281
Mayor’s Office Fax: (401) 723-8620
Sue Lozy (secretary to the assistant superintendent)
Note: We were told Lozy is due to retire soon so we’re not sure how long she can be reached.
Jessica Stensrud is a social justice activist and advocate. She is a co-coordinator for the [Anti-Bullying] Rhode Island Healthy Workplace Bill and has been active in fighting lunch shaming issue in Pawtucket.