Maple Street supper program officially kicks off

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Sat., Feb. 23, 2013
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2) is among the cafeteria workers at the kick-off of Maple Street School's supper program on Feb. 21. Photos by Steve Smith.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2) is among the cafeteria workers at the kick-off of Maple Street School's supper program on Feb. 21. Photos by Steve Smith.

The combined effort of the Vernon Schools' Food Services, End Hunger CT! and the USDA held a kick-off event for Maple Street School's 'Supper' program on Feb. 21. The official title of the program is the At-Risk After School Meal Program, and it is federally funded by the USDA through the State Department of Education.

The meal program has been in place since December for students of the school who take part in the Community School Program, and reimbursement is provided through the federal and state programs for meals prepared by Vernon schools.

The event was to create awareness of the program, allowing parents to see the usefulness. Dawn Crayco, deputy director of End Hunger CT!, said the dinner program is available to other communities, but many towns may not be aware of it.

Crayco has also sat on Vernon's Hunger Action Team – a community group – and said they have been seeking ways to combat the hunger issues in town. “There are programs out there that people aren't using, but if you can get the right people in the room, you can start to bring them in,” Crayco said, adding that Maple Street School qualifies for the program, because 50 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Connecticut is one of the first states to roll out the new program, and Vernon is one of five Connecticut cities and towns to implement the suppers. Crayco said between 10 and 20 students have been taking part in the supper program, but many more are eligible.

“We think it's because parents don't know it's here,” she said, “that it's for everyone, and it's one less meal that you have to think about, as well as more time for socialization.”

“If your kids are here for our programs, have them stay and enjoy dinner with us before you head home,” said Monica Pacheco, the Vernon schools' food and nutrition services director. “It's part of the program, it's free to your students and we'd really love to see more students take part.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2) also attended the event. Courtney had helped Connecticut secure use of the federal program and said that part of the genius of the program is that to enjoy the free, nutritious meal, the trade-off is that they have to take part in the tutoring, exercise, and other beneficial activities in the community school program.

“It's worked like a charm,” Courtney said.

Sarah Sweetman, the community school coordinator at Maple Street School, said she has seen the suppers become a fun, social setting, and she sees many parents coming to spend time with their kids, and it meshes well with the children's other activities. “The kids just think it's fun to have another meal at school,” Sweetman said. “We sit down and talk about their activities.”

Tashia Stewart has children in third grade and kindergarten who participate in the program. She said she was resistant to having her son eat dinner at the school, but decided to try it after he kept asking to. “My younger son would cry when I would pick him up, because he thought he was staying for supper,” she said, “but then I let him try it. All of his friends are here, eating supper together, and it's good nutritious food, so why not? Now they come every day. It's a really great program.”

Stewart said she sees the supper program and the community school itself both have a positive effect on her children's academics. “It keeps them connected to the school, but they're having fun,” she said. “It helps to interact with all the children in different grades.”

She added that the parents have also been networking and communicating more, which benefits the children's friendships. “It helps the parents get to know each other, and to get to know each other's kids,” she said.

Crayco said the program can easily accommodate 30 to 40 kids per meal, and that she hopes it becomes more of a regular part of the school day, along with the community school program.

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