Leichliter: Universal School Meals help families cope in the face of spiking food costs

-A A +A

Leichliter: Universal School Meals help families cope in the face of spiking food costs

Tue, 01/24/2023 - 7:51am -- tim

by Dr Michael G. Leichliter We’ve all seen the egg story — a dozen eggs is, at its cheapest, more than five dollars in Vermont stores currently.

For the two in five people who experience hunger in our state, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The looming end of SNAP Emergency Allotments from the federal government, one of several COVID-19 pandemic federal nutrition supports that have been withdrawn, means that about $6 million that has sustained so many of our neighbors - and many of my district’s students and their families, will leave an impossible hole to fill.

All this is to say that now is the time to celebrate Vermont’s successes and continue to work toward solidifying the supports we have in place now — like Universal School Meals.

Passed as a single-year program during the 2022 legislative session, this year legislators are already working to make the program permanent, providing breakfast and lunch to Vermont students at no cost.

As the Superintendent of the Harwood Unified Union School District in Washington County, I see firsthand the very real change Universal School Meals has made in my students' lives.

Many families in our district do not meet the federal free and reduced lunch criteria. One such family historically carried a very high lunch debt every year. Both parents work and one of the parents holds multiple jobs to make ends meet. They have three growing children who are hard-working and caring children in our schools. This was always a sticky point for the relationship between the school and family. It was heart-breaking for the cafeteria worker who ran the register to tell their child that, “your lunch account is in the negative.” Parents would often speak with their principal and share that "I forgot the check, I'll bring it next week..."

The principals simply wanted all of the children to have a healthy and relaxing lunch without feeling badly that their parents were struggling to feed them while at school. This is no longer a worry for children, families, or principals thanks to Universal School Meals for Vermont children.

Universal School Meals not only benefit our students and their families, but have improved the experience of our school nutrition professionals. Universal School Meals coupled with the local purchasing incentive that has been in place for 2 years, enables school nutrition experts to deepen and expand relationships with local food producers, cooking with fresh and healthy ingredients while simultaneously supporting our state’s agriculture economy.

Together we can make sure that no child in Vermont ever goes hungry during the school day — and we can give them the opportunity to enjoy delicious and locally-sourced and produced meals.

To join in with this work, visit www.universalschoolmealsvt.org

Dr Michael G Leichliter, of Duxbury, is superintendent of schools for the Harwood Unified Union School District.