Taking a Bite out of Hunger in Hartford

Hunger Solutions

You’re down to your last $20. What do you decide to spend it on? Gas to get to work or groceries to feed the family?

It’s a situation most families face these days. When funds are limited and the cost of essentials are on the rise, putting food on the table is a major concern. In fact, NH Hunger Solutions reported in February 2024 that 38% of adults and 42% of New Hampshire children lived in households that reported having insufficient food. According to Hunger Free Vermont, 33% of Vermonters experience hunger every day.

For almost a decade, the Hartford Community Coalition (HCC) has been working to tip the scales of food insecurity from worry to non-worry.

“Our coalition acts to reduce the stigma and impact of alcohol and drug use, food insecurity, and mental health in support of the development of a healthy, safe, and resilient Hartford,” said Emily Zanleoni, LCMHC, NCC Executive Director, HCCDFC Program Director. “Though we wish there wasn’t the need, there is. No one comes to an open site or signs up for meals because they want to, it’s because they have to.”

One of HCC’s programs is Take a Bite out of Hunger, a community meals program that provides free weekday breakfasts and lunches during the summer months to children fed through free/reduced meal programming during the school year. “Through a community forum in 2015, we found those kids weren’t getting fed in the same manner during the summer,” Zanleoni said.

In summer 2023, the program delivered 20,013 meals and served 1,241 children. Meals are provided to children in five school enrichment programs and four day camps in New Hampshire and Vermont. “We also serve five-day meal bags at two different open sites each week, and deliver bags to all the Lebanon and Hartford housing locations,” Zanleoni said.

“Nutrition is based on USDA guidelines. Often there is a fruit, vegetable, sandwich, and milk — sometimes chips,” Zanleoni said. “Often camps appreciate having the meal equity that our program allows. It's tough to sit next to someone who always has a fancy lunch when your family can hardly afford to put a slice of bologna in between 2 slices of white bread.”

It’s not an easy task, but HCC has created an infrastructure of funding and program administration allowing the program to continue year after year, despite inflation and the growing number of meals needed. Fundraising is a key part of this infrastructure, and sponsorships from local organizations like Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital are crucial.      

“We have to fundraise at least $20,000 just to cover the cost of food for Lebanon housing and school lunches. We raise additional funds for a program coordinator and a driver. We also have about 750 hours of in-kind time donated to this program from packing the meals to keeping records of daily outputs,” Zanleoni said.

HCC’s dedication and hard work is appreciated.

“We get so many thank yous throughout summer, and we look forward to seeing the families that come to pick up weekly meal bags at our open sites, which are free to anyone,” Zanleoni said. “Some families come from 20-plus miles away to our open sites as they do not have summer meal service through their school or town.”

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