Advocates call for permanent free school meals in Massachusetts

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – Project Bread, the state’s leading anti-hunger organization, hosted legislators and school officials at JFK Middle School Tuesday.

Massachusetts is one of only five states that still provides free meals to students since the start of a national program during the pandemic. However, that is set to expire and Project Bread is now advocating for free school meals to be permanent.

Project Bread connects people and communities in Massachusetts to reliable sources of food while advocating for policies that make food more accessible. Their mission Tuesday was to show how their work with JFK Middle School is an example for why free school meals should be permanent going forward.

“Right now the legislature is debating the next fiscal year budget and the House of Representatives chose not only to extend it one more year for their proposal but to in fact make it permanent going forward,” said Jennifer Lemmerman, VP of Public Policy at Project Bread.

Their support is behind School Meals for All legislation, which would allow every student who wants or needs a school breakfast or lunch to receive it at no cost to their family and with no requirement to sign up or provide income or other information. Representatives from both Project Bread and JFK Middle School told 22News that a continuation of free school meals can make a world of difference for some students.

“We know that students are receiving up to 50 percent of their daily nutrients and calories at what they’re eating at school and sometimes more and the majority of those students who are relying on school are coming from a low income background,” said Sam Icklan, Director of Community Nutrition Services at Project Bread

“If it’s not free, then you have kids that are not eating and not reporting out and some caregivers are not filling out the appropriate forms and then you have children who are coming to school, and there’s an unidentified student who, for whatever reason, doesn’t have the means to pay for lunch and then they’re not able to focus in school,” said JFK Middle School Principal Lauren Marien.

If universal school meals are not made permanent through the state legislature, 400,000 students are set to lose access to free school meals.