A local program with the goal of ensuring students in the Boston area have a healthy meal in the summer months is getting national attention.
The Shah Family Foundation started the Local Lunchbox program in Chelsea, Massachusetts, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates were looking to find a way to get food to kids who were learning from home.
They realized they could use the $3.41 per meal allocated by the USDA, give that money to area restaurants struggling to stay open, and get locally-made food to children.
"So we partnered with local restaurants who cook culturally-preferred meals in any particular location, and then kids of any age between the ages of 0 and 18 can go in and get free meals every day," said Jill Shah, the president of the Shah Family Foundation.
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The one program in Chelsea has since spread to 25 communities, and with summer here, Boston is using the Local Lunchbox initiative to make sure students have a much needed meal every day.
Places like Fresh Food Generation and The Daily Table are among nine kitchens in the community making hundreds of meals a day. They're then delivered to roughly 50 pickup sites, where kids can get a free lunch.
It's incredibly meaningful work for those who help prepare the food.
"Look at how many kids we provide meals for. How does this happen in a country like this?" asked Martha Molloy. "The more I talk about it like this, and I don't talk about it very often, the more this makes sense."
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"When we were feeding them prepackaged, preserved food, shipped in from somewhere else, they maybe took it, maybe threw it away," Shah said.
But with these locally-made meals, the program has now noticed a third unforeseen benefit -- kids are actually eating their lunch.
"I really do think love is an ingredient," Shah said. "And handing them the beautiful food, I think also affects children, making them feel like they're being cared for and loved."
The Local Lunchbox program is so successful, the Obama Foundation has just announced it is bringing the program to Chicago, with the goal of feeding 100,000 children this summer alone.