REGION – Vermont students aged 18 and younger are now eligible for free nutritious meals whether learning at home or in school under a new child nutrition waiver granted by the United States Department of Agriculture, Hunger Free Vermont announced Friday, Oct. 23.
The changes in program operations will support efforts by Vermont schools to effectively plan and provide meal service for local children. “The latest child nutrition waivers granted by the USDA allowing all children to receive meals for free has been a dream realized for school nutrition professionals,” said Karyl Kent, School Nutrition Association of Vermont president and Lamoille North Food Service director. “However temporary, this is what we have been advocating for years. In these desperate times, Vermont school nutrition teams continue to heed the call to provide support to our families and communities through nutritionally balanced meals for all children,” said Kent.
Each school is providing meals in a different way, but all schools are finding creative solutions to serve nutritious meals while keeping everyone safe. These meals follow nutritional guidelines, are prepared safely by the school nutrition professionals in your community, and help kids get fueled up and ready to learn.
As a result of the advocacy efforts in Vermont and nationwide, breakfasts and lunches will be free for all, can be picked up by parents for the days when learning is happening at home, and can be provided for weekends for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year to ensure students have access to the nutrition they need to grow and thrive, no matter where they’re learning. Kids who participate in school meal programs experience improved ability to focus and overall academic success, while decreasing hunger and chronic health issues.
“Universal free meals mean that every child has the opportunity to focus on their school work fully nourished and ready to learn. This is the work ahead of us, to ensure all children have access to free school meals even as we return to better, more normal times,” said Kent.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, as many as 1 in 4 Vermonters are experiencing hunger or food insecurity, a sharp increase from 1 in 10 Vermonters, pre-Covid-19. Even more alarmingly, households with children are twice as likely to be experiencing food insecurity.
“Now more than ever, school meals are one of our most valuable and effective resources for keeping all of Vermont’s kids healthy and all of our communities strong,” says Anore Horton, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont. “Thanks to the caring school food service professionals across our state, and the dedicated team at the Agency of Education, Vermont school meal programs are an amazing nutrition and health resource for all, and I urge every family to use them – when you do, you’re not just easing your own challenges, but you are keeping school meal programs financially stable for everyone, and you’re helping schools buy local food to keep Vermont farmers going strong. Everyone wins with school meals!”
Any Vermont children, 18 and under, can access these meals, including pre-K and homeschooled children. While there are no eligibility requirements to access these meals, households with school-aged children completing and submitting a school meal application is a simple and effective way to support your local child nutrition program, helping them continue to meet community needs into the future.
To learn how meals are being served in your community, contact your local school or visit www.hungerfreevt.org/school-meals-during-covid. Ensuring all kids are accessing school meals at this time is important for the health of our kids, communities, and schools.