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Food insecure

Members of the National Guard help to deliver food during a mobile food pantry in Gorham on May 2.

Researcher Jessica Carson is concerned about long-term food insecurity and the state’s most vulnerable populations. She is not alone.

During a Zoom webinar on Tuesday morning, the research assistant professor at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire discussed her brief on innovations that have helped alleviate the needs of families hit by the economic effects of COVID-19. She wrapped up her statements by saying food insecurity is not a problem that is going to go away soon.

“There’s been a lot of really great work happening, but there is a bit of a sense that a lot of these have been Band-Aids addressing these immediate emergency needs in the wake of this public health crisis,” Carson said. “We have to really start thinking about the fact that for many people, for many communities, food insecurity isn’t going to be an acute issue. It’s going to be a chronic, long-term issue.”

Carson’s brief, published Monday, highlighted innovations such as drive-through or curbside food pantry pickup, mobile food pantries and modified Meals on Wheels programs for seniors.

Carson said that with school closures in effect, individual districts and nonprofit organizations have rapidly adjusted their meal distribution systems to keep children fed. She highlighted bus stop or home delivery, grab-and-go meal pickup at schools, and weekend meal services provided by nonprofit organizations.

With the school year ending, leaders throughout the state are working to make sure students continue to be fed this summer.

James Morse is the superintendent of the Oyster River Cooperative School District, which serves Durham, Lee and Madbury. He said that the district will end food delivery on June 12 but is working on having pick-up options for parents at two potential locations, depending on how many people are interested.

“We will continue to provide food to families who qualify for free or reduced cost meals and will offer those who wish to pay the option of buying food under the same guidelines we normally use,” Morse said.

Community Action Partnership of Strafford County in Dover began providing free summer meals to kids at 10 locations in Rochester on Monday because the school year in that city ended Friday.

CEO Betsey Andrews Parker said the agency plans to do the same as schools close in Dover, Somersworth, Farmington and Milton.

Andrews Parker said they served more than 30,000 summer meals in 2019 and are anticipating they will serve approximately over 50,000 summer meals this year because they are starting their program early.

“We will continue to do this as long as school is not in session, so people can come and pick up their meals,” Andrews Parker said.

At the state level, officials at the Department of Education are working to ensure every Granite State child who is in need is fed this summer.

Grant Bosse, director of communications for the Department of Education, said the state does not provide summer meals or the money for them, but they match up federal funding with local programs each year.

“This year, we know that we’ve got a different challenge in that we have to distribute those meals remotely rather than have all the kids say, come to school, or grab a lunch that’s provided while they are at a summer program, so distribution is a real challenge,” Bosse said.

Bosse said the department is working with federal officials to get waivers so school districts and nonprofits can still serve children in their communities. They should have a better idea of how things will work statewide by the end of the month.

Bosse said that some businesses have expressed interest in helping feed children and members of their families, and are working with the state to identify which communities might be best served.

For example, Fidelity Investments has a cafeteria in Merrimack it is not using because most employees are working remotely.

Christina Cuzzi is the senior manager of community relations at Fidelity Investments. The company is starting a meal distribution program this week. Cuzzi said the company’s real estate and food service team came up with the concept to give back using the resources they have.

“That was actually their thinking, their brainstorming, to say, ‘Hey, we could prepare for New Hampshire 500 meals a day and package them and get them out,’” Cuzzi said.

Eileen Groll Liponis, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester, said the need is great statewide. The Food Bank supports more than 400 nonprofit registered agencies and has seen an increase in demand due to unemployment.

Groll Liponis is hopeful to receive $5 million of the state’s $1.25 billion federal grant under the CARES Act, and that she can raise an additional $4 million, to keep the food bank’s shelves stocked through the rest of 2020.

Her concern is that the need will persist longer than the public’s attention to the issue.

“I am worried that the need is not going to go away,” Groll Liponis said. “If I can stay in the funds, long term, I can stay in the food.”

Saturday, May 30, 2020