Local News
8:19 am
Mon February 10, 2014

In Boston — One Of The Nation's Most Affluent Cities — Kids Are Going Hungry

The YMCA in Hyde Park holds family style dinners one night a week.
Credit James Edwards / WGBH

In Boston -- one of the nation's most affluent cities -- kids are going hungry

Wednesday nights at Hyde Park’s YMCA is more than just fun and games for some. 

For 16-year-old Rochelle Reid and others here in the kitchen, it’s a little cooking and prepping, for other kids waiting nearby with hungry stomachs it’s a little cleaning, and last but not least, for all of them… there will be plenty of eating. Tonight’s dish: turkey tacos.

"Even though it’s once a week, it’s that one day a week everyone looks forward to," Reid says. "Everyone’s eager to help. We dilly up the chores: so the cooks, the cleanup, the prepare crew, the disinfecting of the tables."

Reid is one of around two dozen kids who take part in this Y’s weekly Family Style Dinner. All are regular fixtures here after school and workers soon learned that the fruit cups and granola bars they’d give them were not only a snack, but dinner for some.

"It would be long hours. So most kids, their parents come home around 9, 10, so they go a long day after school lunch to dinnertime," Reid says.   

Teens at the YMCA in Hyde Park prepare family style dinner.
Credit James Edwards / WGBH

The Hyde Park Y began the dinners last fall. Before that, it ran a summer program that provided daily meals to kids, something that teen director Adam Lapointe says increased demand for more meals.

"They were like, 'Are we still gonna get food everyday?' So, I thought of a way that after thinking about what I had done in the past when I was at a YMCA in my hometown. As a teen, we did something along this lines. We were helping prepare dinner and stuff, and I thought it would help bring everybody together and also kind of teach them skills about cooking and about, kind of, being responsible," Lapointe says.

Many kids who come to Family Style Dinner also go to a Boston public school, where over three quarters of students qualified for a free or reduced lunch. Last fall, BPS began offering free lunches to all of its students. 

But for some, such as 17-year-old Gabriel Gomez, a gap remains once school is out.

"I be comin’ from school hungry and these moments be like perfect for me ‘cause my mom doesn’t cook at home," he said.

Gabriel said once he gets home he does either one of two things- go to bed, or watch TV. 

Contrary to assumptions, many like Gabriel who go to bed hungry aren’t living in poverty, according to research.  

In fact, many who are at risk of hunger make too much to qualify for help from the government.  And for those who do qualify, there’s still a struggle to meet basic needs. 

Across Massachusetts, over 200,000 children have a parent who earns less than $11 per hour, according to Project Bread

"Maybe somebody’s got some problems at home or maybe somebody’s having a great home environment or maybe you learn that one of the kids that you met that’s speaking very fluent English that you think – actually English is their second language, so it’s been kind of refreshing to learn the deeper level stuff that you don’t really get to know about a person when you first meet them," YMCA Hyde Park teen director Lapointe said. 

Lapointe said the dinners have given him a chance to connect with the kids on a different level – like family; and it’s a feeling echoed by both Gabriel Gomez and Rochelle Reid.

"It’s like you don’t even know the people’s names, but you greet them ‘cause that’s how friendly it is," Gomez said. 

"It’s more like my other family. I tell my mom, 'I’m not going into the Y. I’m going to my second house,'" Reid said. 

Not every Family Style Dinner is home cooked. Several restaurants around Hyde Park are stepping in to donate dinners to the program – because what family doesn’t like a little takeout.