FAIRFIELD — When summer rolls around, most students are excited to leave behind the history books and school hallways for summer camp, days at the lake or just time off with friends. But for some students, time away from school can also be a cause for concern, especially students faced with food insecurity.

Dan Chamberlain, the nutrition director for School Administrative District 49, said during the summer months, four schools in the district are open to provide free breakfast and lunch for anyone under the age of 18. He said it’s not limited to just residents of the towns in the district — Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield — but anyone who wants to come in.

The challenge, Chamberlain said, is actually getting to a school.

“It could be used a lot more,” Chamberlain said of the summer meal programs, which began on June 26 and run to Aug. 4 or Aug. 18, depending on the site. The issue, he said, is geography and transportation. In some cases, the school is too far away for a student to walk to it every day, or the students might not have transportation. Maybe the student’s parents are working, or they don’t have a car. In any case, he thinks there are students out there who need the program but don’t have a way to access it, noting for example, the housing development on U.S. 201 in Fairfield, where kids would not have easy access to the program and the meals.

“It’s a needed service,” he said.

Penny Jackman, kitchen manager at the Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield, said it’s a “round robin” of kids that come through their location each day. Football players come in for lunch, while students from the Fairfield Police Athletic League and summer school students also come in. Jackman estimated they probably see about 120 students each day at that location. She said they try to get more people in, sending fliers home at the end of the school year and letting parents know about it ahead of time.

“There’s definitely a need, which is why we want to get more parents in,” she said.

Jackman also pointed out that transportation is a major problem.

In addition to Lawrence Junior High School, the district also serves meals at Benton and Clinton elementary schools and Fairfield Primary. Chamberlain said the Lawrence program is the biggest with Benton second. He said about 30 students a day take meals at Fairfield Primary and estimated between 50 and 60 eat at Clinton Elementary.

Clinton is the neediest of the schools in terms of students’ access to food, Chamberlain said, adding that he’d like to look into mobile meal programs to reach the pockets of children who aren’t being served, but any site would have to be approved by the United States Department of Agriculture, which funds the program. He’d like to set up a mobile site at the Brown Memorial Library in Clinton.

Over half the district’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year, which he said was about average for the region.

Now in his fourth year with the district, Chamberlain said the summer meal program is more readily available to the community. He’s worked to make sure parents know the service is available and free to anyone up to the age of 18.

At the end of the school year, Chamberlain posts the menus, which Jackman said contain a protein, vegetable, grain, fruit and milk. Chamberlain said menus are set in advance, but they can accommodate children with dietary problems if they know ahead of time. He said it’s usually not an issue in the summer.

“Word gets out, but people get busy,” Chamberlain said, so not everyone comes.

According to numbers from the Good Shepard Food Bank, nearly 16 percent of all households in the state face food insecurity, or about 200,000 people. The organization, which gathers and distributes food around the state, also says 21 percent of children in the state are food insecure, meaning one in five children. Chamberlain said the numbers of children facing food insecurity are likely larger than people consider.

“You think in this day and age it can’t happen, but it does,” he said.

Danielle Gorman, a music teacher at the schools in Clinton, Albion and Benton, said it’s routine for the students in summer school to take advantage of the free meals, and that programs like this are necessary. In her experience as an educator, she said a lot of kids don’t have breakfast before coming to school.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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