Today Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll joined more than 50 other mayors from across the country in the new nonpartisan Mayors Alliance to End Childhood Hunger coalition, which taps the individual and collective leadership of mayors to take meaningful action to end childhood hunger in cities nationwide. Mayor Driscoll is the first Massachusetts mayor to join the coalition. The coalition believes that there is no excuse for children to go hungry in this country. Yet in the United States today, nearly 12 million children live in families considered food insecure.
“The need for a coordinated and thoughtful approach to tackling food insecurity in our communities has never been more apparent,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll. “As we rebuild from this pandemic, access to nutritious food for every child and family is at the top of every city and town’s list of concerns. Fortunately, in Salem, we have spent years laying a strong foundation to address these challenges. Now, as we work on equitable recovery measures for our neighborhoods, our schools, and our families, it’s clear that fighting childhood hunger is an essential priority, and we’re ready to take it on.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, state, local and national leaders took urgent action to fight childhood hunger - tactics that worked to stave off greater rates of food insecurity despite the severe economic hardships brought on by the pandemic. The Mayors Alliance will harness the collective expertise of mayors from across the political spectrum to continue driving change at the state and national level.
The Mayors Alliance to End Childhood Hunger is partner of the national nonprofit Share Our Strength and its No Kid Hungry campaign.
“Mayors have witnessed firsthand the hardship their constituents are facing, and their cities are on the frontlines of responding to the short and long-term impacts of hunger in their communities,” said Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen mayors address child hunger in a variety of creative ways, like advocating for and strengthening nutrition programs, to creating innovative public-private partnerships and growing awareness of the systemic connections between poverty, racism and hunger.”
Mayor Kim Driscoll and the City of Salem have a strong history of supporting policies and programs to end childhood hunger, which has become even more prevalent during the pandemic. In 2017 Mayor Driscoll convened the Salem Food Policy Council, later renamed “Salem Food for All,” to coordinate a community-based response to food insecurity and leverage partnerships with existing stakeholders to make the most meaningful difference possible.
Salem Public Schools provides every student with free breakfast and lunch during the school year through the Community Eligibility Provision, eliminating the need to fill out applications or paperwork, as well as the stigma associated with school lunch debt. The City has also been an advocate for Project Bread’s School Meals for All, a bill that, if passed, will ensure every public school student in Massachusetts receives free breakfast and lunch during the school year.
The Salem Public Schools have been a sponsor of the USDA’s Summer Eats program for nearly two decades, to ensure that children have access to healthy meals during the summer months. In 2014, Mayor Driscoll was awarded a grant through the Eos Foundation to hire a Summer Meals Program Manager to expand and promote the program by partnering with other community organizations.
Mayor Driscoll also spearheaded a community meals program for families, the Salem Meet & Eat, which was a need identified in the Salem Community Food Assessment. A public school cafeteria hosts a free monthly meal for Salem residents provided by Root, a local culinary education program for teens and young adults. This continues as a “grab and go” style meal due to COVID restrictions.
In March of 2020, as schools and cafeterias closed due to the pandemic, the Salem school district didn’t miss a single day of providing meals to children. School buses delivered breakfasts and lunches to bus stops and city parks during the school closure, providing enough meals for seven days a week, including school vacations. In all the schools distributed between 50,000 and 75,000 “grab and go” meals each month during the school closure. In addition to that, the Salem Pantry distributed about 75,000 pounds of food per month during 2021 for all residents, not just children.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Mayor Driscoll mobilized City employees as COVID team leaders, with food insecurity as a priority. The City worked closely with local food assistance organizations, restaurants and community volunteers to ensure that our most vulnerable populations, children and seniors, did not go hungry. And, to supplement the work of food assistance organizations, Mayor Driscoll approved the purchase of $10,000 worth of grocery store gift cards that were distributed to families facing hardship due to the pandemic.
The City of Salem provided financial assistance to local food assistance organizations like The Salem Pantry and Root. The Salem Pantry was able to dramatically expand their services from two mobile market locations to 14, including schools and low-income housing sites, providing weekly groceries to hundreds of Salem children and their families. The Salem Pantry now serves an average of 600 children every month. Root used City of Salem funding to provide extra meals for families at school lunch sites as well as the Salem Summer Eats sites. Root’s community food assistance also included 5,000 meals specifically for Salem youth. Also during the pandemic the City sought and received a state grant to hire laid-off restaurant workers to prepare packaged meals that were also provided to the Salem Summer Eats sites during the summer of 2020.
Lastly, a municipal farm project, the Mack Park Farm, began its first growing season in the spring of 2020. Operated by the City of Salem with the assistance of volunteers, the farm has grown over 12,000 pounds of fresh produce that was provided to Salem families free of charge. In addition to food assistance, the project also aims to educate youth on the benefits of growing and eating healthy food, hosting school groups and offering volunteer opportunities for all ages. It has been held up as a national model by the Mayor’s Innovation Project, as a program to help leverage City land to address local food insecurity.
For more information about the Mayors Alliance to End Childhood Hunger, please visit: www.mayorshungeralliance.org. For more information about Salem Food for All, please visit www.facebook.com/SalemFoodforAll.