Somerset groups step in to secure food future for children

Many people may be surprised that hunger in Maryland exists. According to Maryland Food Bank, there are more than 475,000 Marylanders who don't know where they are getting their next meal.

It's called food insecurity and it’s most prevalent here on the shore.

There's over 46,000 people here on the eastern shore that are food insecure, a third of those are children.
Somerset County has the highest rate of food insecurity and for that very reason, Somerset County Public Schools is doing more to help out their students.

Athough lack of funding has Somerset at a shortfall this year.

“Do I pay my mortgage, and the fuel it takes to fuel my car to get to work every day or do I put food on the table,” says Jennifer Small, Maryland Food Bank-Eastern Shore.

It’s decisions thousands of parents on the eastern shore have to make every day. More than 16 thousand kids locally are food insecure and Somerset County has the highest rate of food insecurity.
That’s why the county's schools are taking a much larger role than just providing education by providing free breakfast and lunch to all of their students.
“We see more children eating every day that used to not eat because there's no stigma about whose getting free food and who is going to have to pay for the food. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is for this to be available for our children, so all children get to have two meals a day free,” says Tracy Bartemy, the Director of Schools for Somerset County.

Fuel that is crucial for better learning.

Small says, “We know if they have little food available, how can they concentrate, how do they excel in school and that's tremendous.”

But the next question that comes into play is whether those students are getting a third meal.

A question Somerset County answered for the last couple years by providing an after-school program for students through a federal grant.

“It was a place where children got to snack and they could for a little bit of that time got some physical activity. They worked on their homework and then they did some interesting STEM activities,” says Bartemy.

But this year that grant expired and with it the after-school program, so the county is relying on it’s community partners to fill the void.
“It’s very unfortunate that we don't have something that is really available but we do have community partners that have been providing some after school things and they are going to continue which were very happy about that,” explains Bartemy.

Programs that parents can still count on while the county searches for grants to bring that needed program back to those families that depend on it.
Although that after-school program isn't happening this year, Somerset County says there are other programs available at the Garland Hayward Center and at ‘It Takes A Village’.
But there is some good news out of Somerset. This summer they did have funding and because of that were able run two highly successful programs.

One of them their migrant program and the other a Pre-K program.

The programs not only provided two meals, but also helped students and migrant students to better their math and reading while also incorporating some enrichment courses like dance and theater.

For those in Pre-K, they got a chance to learn the ins and outs of school so come the new school year they were ready to go.
“What we found was teachers found when it was the first day of school those children that went to this summer transition program were ready for that first day,” explains Karen Karten, Somerset’s Early Childhood Director.

And to continue the pre-k learning Somerset County has added two new classes this year, which means all families in the county who are seeking pre-k can get it.

For those in the migrant program, they have access to tutors for the entire school year to continue providing assistance.

Categories: Local News, Maryland