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Updated: October 21, 2019

Camp Courant, Foodshare bridge hunger gap

Photos | Contributed Volunteers from the Beazley Group came to Camp Courant every Friday this summer to distribute and fill hundreds of bags with food for campers to bring home with them. Campers are shown to the right and below receiving their bags as they get on the bus.


Camp Courant & Foodshare

Summer camp is supposed to be about carefree fun in the sun. But counselors at Camp Courant in Farmington last summer noticed something curious on Fridays: Young campers were asking for extra lunches and snacks to bring home for the weekend.

The children — the vast majority from lower-income families — wanted the extra food for their siblings.

Camp staff soon discerned the larger truth: “A lot of these kids didn’t have access to food on the weekends,” said McKinley Albert, executive director of Camp Courant.

Celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, Camp Courant hosted 750 kids a week for six weeks this summer, its largest cohort ever. And since last summer, Albert has come up with an effort to help with the hunger problem — with a little help from a friend.

Jason Jakubowski, president and CEO of Foodshare, remembers sitting next to Albert at a MetroHartford Alliance event last summer when the two nonprofit executives struck up a conversation about Camp Courant’s hungry youngsters. Jakubowski mentioned that his food bank provided regular donations to some summer programs in its service area, Hartford and Tolland counties.

Foodshare estimates that more than 118,000 people in the two counties are “food insecure” at any given time, meaning they don’t have reliable access to enough affordable and nutritious food. Summer is a particular problem because many low-income kids lose access to meals at schools. Food donations and volunteers also trend downward in the summer months, he added.

“The summer is hands down the most difficult time for us and for our partners out in the community. People are on vacation; a lot of people aren’t thinking about food and hunger,” Jakubowski said. At the same time, Foodshare and other food banks struggle to reach needy families when school is out.

“How do we fill that gap between the last day of school and the first day of school?” Jakubowski asked.

Albert and Jakubowski soon realized that Camp Courant kids could benefit from a summer food program. Foodshare secured a grant from the West Hartford-based Winter-Lehman Family Foundation to fully fund a pilot in the last weeks of summer 2018 to send each camper home with a bag of nonperishable food on Fridays.

“It sounded like a good idea but neither of us knew if it was something that would work,” Jakubowski said.

By the end of that summer, it was obvious that the program met an important need, Albert said. Camp Courant parents reported that the program was “hugely helpful,” she said. Based on parent feedback, food bags this summer had more staples like pasta and cereal to help fill gaps for families.

“Summer meals are a really hard thing for the low-income community,” Albert said.

Volunteers from the Beazley Group, an insurance agency near the camp’s site at Batterson Park in Farmington, helped pack food bags for all 750 kids. Counselors gave kids their bags of food as they get off the bus at their homes.

The overwhelmingly positive response to the pilot program led Foodshare to dub the effort “Summer Foodshare for Kids,” and offer similar services this year to summer programs at the Wilson-Gray YMCA Youth and Family Center and Pope Park in Hartford. Further expansion depends on funding support, Jakubowski said.

“It would be an awesome thing for Foodshare to be able to replicate this,” said Albert of Camp Courant. “There’s a huge need.”

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