Lawmakers consider statewide free breakfast in schools

Only 20 percent of students participate in breakfast programs

BOSTON (WWLP) -1 in 7 children in Massachusetts is at risk of hunger. State lawmakers are proposing free breakfast after the bell, that could reach 150,000 Massachusetts students in need.

“Unfortunately, when breakfast is served before the bell, the kids are often not there,” said Andrea Silbert, President of the Eos Foundation.

West Springfield has more than 4,000 children that get free or reduced-price meals, but only 20 percent of students participate in breakfast programs.

More than 65 percent of western Massachusetts lawmakers support a bill to offer students free breakfast after the start of the school day.

“This makes sure that every kid, regardless of income, gets fed,” said State Representative Aaron Vega, (D) Holyoke.

If passed, the bill would require K-12 public schools with more than 60 percent of students on free or reduced-priced meals to serve breakfast to all students in the classroom.

Some residents question if it’s the job of the state to provide students with meals, but Vega told 22News many low-income students may not eat without the program.

“Families are struggling. Kids are going to school hungry,” said Vega. “Sometimes, whether it’s pre-school or school, the only good meal they’re getting is at school and that’s just the reality.”

“If a student is hungry and you’re trying to teach them, what they’re going to be thinking about is the hunger and not what they need to learn,” said Joseph Dougherty of Holyoke Community Charter School.

The EOS Foundation gives start-up grants of up to ten-thousand dollars to help schools launch breakfast after the bell programs at no cost to your community. Additionally, there’s federal reimbursement to states that offer breakfast and lunch programs.

All public K-8 schools in Holyoke now offer breakfast after the bell, but state lawmakers hope to bring it to all districts.