REGION – Across Vermont, just over 36,000 school-age children rely on school breakfast and lunch to provide the nutrition they need to grow and thrive. When school is not in session, these children are left vulnerable to food insecurity and the resulting consequences. Communities are taking action by offering free meals for kids and teens during the summer months.
This year, nearly 300 sites will be serving free, healthy meals, and snacks to kids and teens during summer break through the Summer Food Service Program. Meals are served in locations where kids naturally congregate in the summer, including public parks and pools, libraries, and schools, and are often paired with either enrichment or physical activities to keep kids moving and learning. From Bennington and Brattleboro to the Northeast Kingdom and Champlain Islands, towns all around the state will be taking part in these efforts.
Vermont schools and community groups work tirelessly to establish as many summer meals sites as possible, and their diligence and commitment to children have enabled Vermont to be ranked second in the country for providing kids summer meals, as noted in the report released by the Food Research & Action Center, called “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report 2019.”
Despite this noteworthy achievement, in 2018, this federal program reached only 31% of Vermont children who relied on school meals. More needs to be done to reach all the children who could benefit from these healthy meals. Hunger Free Vermont works to address state and federal barriers and troubleshoot solutions so that the number of summer meals sites can grow and better meet the needs of children.
Summer meals play a critical role in the health and wellbeing of Vermont’s youth. Without proper nutrition, low-income students are at risk of losing two months of both reading and math skills over summer break. The nutrition, structure, stability, and socialization of summer meal programs can help to close this achievement gap and ensure that children return to school healthy and ready to learn.
Open summer meal sites are available to anyone 18 years old and under – no need to register or call ahead. All children, regardless of household income, are encouraged to attend. Site information can be found by visiting www.hungerfreevt.org/summer-meals-site-lists or by calling 211. Texting “FOOD” to 877-877 will also provide information on nearby meal sites.