Hunger program celebrates success

More than 1,000 meals served

Adam Urquhart Hector Rios' daughter Heavenlyana Rios gets herself something to eat.

NASHUA — Children in the Dr. Crisp neighborhood are less hungry this summer thanks to a pilot program that aims to eliminate childhood hunger in the city.

Thursday saw the celebration of more than 1,000 meals served to children and families living in the neighborhood around Dr. Crisp Elementary School through collaborative program spearheaded by the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, with help from the United Way, Southern New Hampshire Services, the school district, and the city.

“It’s certainly a work in progress,” said Michael Reinke, executive director of the soup kitchen.

Reinke and his team have been serving breakfast and lunch to people in the neighborhood, identified as an area of high food insecurity for children, to make sure children are getting fed when school is out. They are also serving a limited number of family meals, sending people home with food during the week.

The program seems to be taking off, as they have gone from serving 30 to 40 meals a week to more than 100, Reinke said. The programs served its 1000th meal on Tuesday.

Henry Harris, with Southern New Hampshire Services, said the Dr. Crisp program is similar to the summer food programs his organization operates in that it is an open site. That means the volunteers and staff do not require the children and their families to fill out forms in order to get fed.

“We want to make sure kids get food with the least amount of red tape,” Harris said.

Children in low income neighborhoods are generally offered food through school during the academic year. During summer, though, there can be a gap as children are often home alone while their parents are working. Reaching out to the families to let them know about the program has been critical, Reinke said. Grace Tavares, the home school coordinator with Dr. Crisp, has been a vital link between Reinke’s efforts and the community, he said.

“We had to establish some trust,” he said.

Tavares was able to get in touch with the families she knows who could use the help, and she’s encouraged them to come out.

“We want to make sure the kids are still getting quality, nutritious food,” Tavares said.

Krishna Mangipudi, a member of the soup kitchen’s board, said the program deals with the reality that many of the children going hungry in Nashua can’t simply get seek out the help they need.

“There’s no way they could come to the soup kitchen every day,” Mangipudi said.

Bringing a food program to their neighborhood allows them the chance to walk to the food, he said.

It’s hoped that the program at Dr. Crisp can be brought to other neighborhoods in the city. Mayor Jim Donchess has made it a goal to end childhood hunger in Nashua. To make that happen, Donchess said he is sure there will be more partnerships like the one started at Dr. Crisp.

“The thing about our community is that Nashua collaborates,” Donchess said.