BRATTLEBORO — Twenty-five percent of children in Windham County do not always know where their next meal is coming from.
Katherine Jandernoa, co-chair of the Hunger Council of the Windham Region, released this statistic at the Council's meeting on May 18. Jandernoa went on to say that during the eight or so weeks of summer break, there is a gap in food access for families that rely on the school meal program. But, she added, there are food sites throughout the state where children can have access to nutritious food.
"Hunger doesn't go away when that last bell rings for the school year, and summer meal programs are a great way to ensure that kids are receiving nutritious foods throughout the entire year," said Jenna Banning, Hunger Council organizer at Hunger Free Vermont.
Over the last five years Windham County has had someone from the Vermont Agency of Education who dedicates their time to the summer meals program. The Vermont Agency of Education has certain requirements in order for a summer meal site to operate. First, the entity sponsoring the site must fill out an online form and be approved by the state. Then, the site must have a "pre-approval visit" from the state to verify that it complies with all regulations. Lastly, sponsors that run multiple meal sites must have trained personnel at each site.
"Across Vermont, 37,000 children who are eligible for free/reduced price school meals participate in the average school day," said Kathy Fleury, Child Nutrition Initiatives manager at Hunger Free Vermont. "However, on the average summer day, only about 8,073 children participate in meal programs. This is a huge gap that also has serious implications on a child's academic achievement, behavior, and health."
On Friday evening, the Hunger Council of the Windham Region will host a summer food kick-off from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Sanel lot on Flat Street, next to the Boys & Girls Club. This free event will included dinner for families, activities and giveaways, summer camp/activity information, and games and prizes from the Fuel Up to Play 60 van of the New England Dairy & Food Council. Fuel Up to Play 60 is an in-school nutrition and physical activity program launched by National Dairy Council and National Football League, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to help encourage today's youth to lead healthier lives. According to Sue Graff from United Way of Windham County, 275 dinners were served at last year's kick-off.
Not all eligible communities are providing this resource.
Leland & Grey, which used to operate an open meal site in July, has switched to a closed meal site due to low attendance at the open site in years prior. According to the Hunger Council of the Windham Region, there are 16 sites in Brattleboro, seven that are open sites, meaning any child 18 years old or younger can stop in to receive a free meal. The rest are closed sites, for children who are signed up for that site, which is typically a camp or summer program.
"With open summer meal sites, like the ones being offered in Brattleboro, all children, regardless of their family's income, can get a healthy and tasty meal, with no judgements or stigma," said Banning.
Kathy Squires, of the Townshend Community Food Shelf, spoke about Townshend's summer meal situation. Squires said she and others have been working to make sure there are summer meals available to children in that area throughout the entire summer.
"The Council agreed to continue focusing on the Townshend region over the next year with the goal of expanding summer meals 'coverage' to the entire summer for children in that region," stated the minutes from May 18 meeting of the Hunger Council of the Windham Region.
Pat Haine of Guilford Cares, a non-profit organization that offers Guilford residents a variety of health care and wellness support services, stated that the library in Guildford will no longer participate in summer meals. Haine stated at the May 18 meeting, that there was concern about the amount of food that was being wasted. Kira Sawyer-Hartigan of the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union mentioned that many sites donate the remaining food, but noted that left-over food is a financial loss for sponsors. Telos Whitefield of Healthy Harvest Network said she would be interested in "finding and capturing" non-eaten meals at other meal sites.
Free and nutritious meals will be available to youth 18 and younger at over 20 sites throughout Windham County this summer through the USDA's Summer Food Service Program. Meals will be served from late June through August, with many sites serving both breakfast and lunch. Additional summer camps will serve free breakfast, lunch, and/or snack through the program to their enrolled participants. The final list of sites will be available in June and distributed widely to schools and community partners. To locate a meal site in Vermont, call 211 toll-free, text 'FOOD' to 877-877, or visit hungerfreevt.org.
Community partners involved in the Summer Food subcommittee of the Hunger Council of the Windham Region include the Boys & Girls Club, Food Connects, Hunger Free Vermont, Our Place, United Way of Windham County, Windham Child Care Association, and the four supervisory unions in Windham County. The next meeting for the Hunger Council of the Windham Region will be held on July 20, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Marlboro College Graduate Center in Brattleboro.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275