PEABODY — School’s out for the summer, but the city’s campaign to help keep children from going hungry isn’t taking a vacation.
Peabody Public Schools and No Child Goes Hungry in Peabody (NCGHP) are stepping up this summer to help families who are struggling with food insecurity.
Superintendent Dr. Josh Vadala has announced that the school department will offer the Summer Eats program starting July 12. The program will give free lunches to any Peabody resident under the age of 19 every Tuesday and Thursday through Aug. 25. In addition to its ongoing free meal delivery service, NCGHP will also distribute up to four lunches per child through Summer Eats on Fridays.
“This is the first year the schools are taking this program back from Citizens Inn and we have been working very closely with (Citizens Inn former executive director) Corey Jackson and his team to make sure this continues,” Vadala said. “We are very grateful for NCGHP to help us get this off the ground.”
Summer Eats meals will be distributed from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the McCarthy Elementary School, the Peabody Institute Library and the Higgins Middle School. Vadala said he is promoting the program aggressively to get the word out, using direct communication to families via Aspen, a press release and robo calls.
“We have multiple ways of getting it out,” Vadala said.
School Committee member Jarrod Hochman, the executive director of NCGHP, said while he is “ecstatic” that the schools are running the program, he is disappointed with the timing.
“This is something that I have been advocating for before Citizens Inn had the program,” he said. “But the negatives are the program doesn’t start until July 12. This isn’t a reflection of anyone one person or a condemnation of any individual. I’m not suggesting that anyone of these kids is going one full month without food, which would be ridiculous. They are going a distance to get a free lunch not because they want to but because they need to. To not have meals available for four solid weeks is disheartening to me, but I guess two days a week is better than none, so I guess there is something positive there.”
Hochman conceded the fact that, as this is the first year the schools are operating the program after several years when it was run by Library Director Martha Holden and the Citizens Inn (which kept the program during the pandemic), there will be growing pains.
“It will take a bit of time to get to where we need to be, but this year what rolled out is a little disappointing to me and my board of directors at NCGHP, which is why we (NCGHP) are coming forward on Fridays,” he said, adding he hopes the Summer Eats program will add a site in South Peabody in the future.
Fellow committee member Joe Amico said the committee needs to begin planning the 2023 Summer Eats program earlier to ensure the program starts as soon as school ends.
“We can do better. We have a lot of kids in need and I would hope that starting next winter we do plan for the summer,” Amico said. “I envision that next year at this time, the day after school gets out until th…