Special to The Press
BRISTOL - Across the state of Connecticut there are over 600 locations where families can go to get free lunch during the summer. The Bristol Public Library is one of locations supported by the USDA program.
The beneficial programs often go unnoticed by the communities they are meant to help. According to Sarah Santora, an employee of Foodshare, which is a Connecticut based charity, only 15 to 16 percent of all children eligible for free and reduced lunch participate in free summer lunch. In order to boost attendance for the federally funded programs, Foodshare has partnered with different communities in Hartford and Tolland counties to provided adjacent activities to keep the children active, as well as healthy.
“We want good participation in the free lunch programs so it won’t disappear with budget cuts. We know physical activities bring the community out, so we are combining sports with the lunches,” said Santora, who travels around organizing the different sports events.
There has been a huge effort to advertise the free track and field, basketball and baseball programs.
Foodshare partnered with Fox61, the River 105.9, Country 92.5 and Stop & Shop in order to promote the different free lunch and activity sites.
Stop & Shop provided Foodshare with a generous grant to allow them to hold the sporting events, as well as their Championship Event on August 5 at the Parker Memorial Community Center in Hartford.
The children who perform the best at the various sports will have a chance to compete against children from all the different towns that Foodshare services.
“It’s really a nice community effort – we couldn’t have made this a great summer experience without our partners,” Santora commented.
Even ESPN has gotten in on the charity work. On Friday mornings from 9:30 to 11, when Foodshare runs their event at the Bristol Public Library, ESPN Employees volunteer to help the organizers run the competitions.
“I know a lot of people growing up who would have really benefited from having free lunches in the summer,” said ESPN volunteer Nicole Peterson.
Her partner, Jared Williams, agreed.
“We both ran track in high school and college, and we want to help these kids understand the importance of being healthy,” he said. “Tthey already want to play anyway, and this way they get a good lunch and start healthy habits.”