Vt. better than most states at providing summer meals to kids

LOLA DUFFORT
VT Digger

For food insecure families who rely on schools to provide their children with free breakfast and lunch, the summer months can be a difficult time. Luckily, Vermont does better than most at providing access to federally funded summer meals at parks, schools and campsites across the state. But advocates say plenty of children are still left out.

Last summer, 427,758 meals were served at 300 sites across the state, according to the Vermont Agency of Education. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a national nonprofit dedicated to eradicating hunger, Vermont ranked second in the country in 2017 for participation in its summer meals program.

But Anore Horton, the executive director at Hunger Free Vermont, points out that’s largely because basically everyone is failing to reach enough children. In 2017, according to FRAC, there were 27,224 Vermont students enrolled in their free and reduced lunch program at school. That summer, fewer than 8,000 children accessed summer meal sites on any given day.

“That’s not good enough. By any stretch of the imagination,” Horton said.

She credits Vermont schools and community groups for establishing as many sites as they have, and says the problem is in large part federal policy. The USDA pays for the open meal sites, but only if they’re located in communities with high enough concentrations of poverty – one way sites can qualify, for example, is if at least 50 percent of children in the local school district are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Hunger Free Vermont would like to see that threshold lowered to 40 percent, which is about the statewide average in Vermont. It would also like families whose children are on free and reduced lunch to have access to summertime EBT cards, so that they can buy food themselves.

But Horton does think the state could do more – especially in providing summertime busing to meal sites. Because in a rural state, transportation remains a key barrier to access.

“It’s also busing that goes away in the summer. That’s how we get the kids to school to eat the meals and learn,” she said.

As for families who aren’t food insecure, Horton strongly encourages them to use open meal sites anyway.

“These are community resources and they thrive the more people participate,” she said.

Because the programs are reimbursed by the USDA based on the number of meals they serve, Horton said, they’re more financially stable and better able to afford high-quality ingredients when more people use them.

“But also – we’re not then stigmatizing certain types of people in the community as the people who need this,” she added.

To find summer food assistance, the USDA has an interactive website: fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks. Hunger Free Vermont lists resources by county at hungerfreevt.org/summer-meals-site-lists.

In addition, the Charlotte Food Shelf is located at the Charlotte Congregational Church, 403 Church Hill Road. Summer hours are Wednesdays, July 10 and 24, Aug. 14 and 28, from 5-7 p.m.; also Thursday mornings 7:30-9:30 on July 11 and 25, Aug. 15 and 29. Information: 425-3252 or at charlotteucc.org/charlotte-food-shelf.

The Hinesburg Food Shelf is located at 51 Ballards Corner Road and is open Tuesdays 5:30-7:30 p.m. and Fridays 10 a.m. to noon. Information: 482-4946 or at hinesburgresource.org/food-shelf.html.

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