A report released today by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) shows Vermont continues to be a national leader in the fight to end childhood hunger, especially during the summer months when free school meals are not available. The “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation” report shows the first nationwide positive increase in participation in summer nutrition for children in the past decade with an average daily participation increase of 5.7 percent. The national Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which has made outreach on summer nutrition a priority along with state partners such as Vermont’s Agency of Education and Hunger Free Vermont. Vermont is ranked 5th in the country for utilization of this program.
While Vermont continues to lead in making summer meals available, more work still needs to be done. Fewer than 1 in 4 of the 37,000 children who rely on the school-year meal program accessed summer meals in 2013. By increasing the promotion of summer meal sites, sponsors around the state are working hard to increase the number of children participating in summer meal and activity programs this summer.
Since 2012, Vermont has seen consistent use of the SFSP program among low-income children in urban and rural communities across the state. However, in this difficult financial climate, many summer meal sites have had to reduce their program length from an average of 27 days to 23 days. “The shortening of programs has made it more difficult for children to access the critical nutrition they need during the summer months,” said Anore Horton, Manager of Child Nutrition Programs at Hunger Free Vermont. “In a rural state like Vermont, children need places to spend the day during the summer, where they can get both nutrition and enrichment activities.”
To prevent the loss in programming and support expansion of summer meal programs, organizations like Hunger Free Vermont have worked with the USDA and local communities to find new and creative solutions to feed more children in the summer months. For example, some senior centers are opening their doors to children this summer and providing activities for both age groups. Other expanded sites include adding meals to library programs as a way to connect children with good nutrition and activities that encourage reading. This outreach has increased the number of summer meal sites in Vermont by almost 10%, and the USDA has provided direct support to Vermont summer meals programs in the form of banners, yard signs, and posters publicizing the summer site locations.
Summer meal program kickoff events are happening around Vermont in June at the following locations:
· June 17th - Cabot: The summer meal sponsor in the area has arranged for racecar driver Troy Kingsbury to bring his racecar to town to encourage kids to read through a Race to Read program. Programming begins at 10:00 AM.
· June 19th - Newport: Green Mountain Farm to School will have a 'Block Party in the Kingdom' from 3:00-7:00 PM at Gardner Park in Newport. Farmers' market, activities, live music, and free food for kids 18 and under.
· June 20th - Milton: Summer food sponsor and acting School Nutrition Association of Vermont President Steve Marinelli will host a carnival and BBQ for kids on school grounds beginning at 11:00 AM.
· June 21st - Brattleboro: United Way of Windham County will host a Summer Food Kickoff Picnic on the Green Street School Lawn. Festivities begin at 11:30 AM.
About Hunger Free Vermont: Hunger Free Vermont is a statewide nonprofit organization that works with state agencies and community groups to end the injustice of hunger and malnutrition for all Vermonters. Since 1993 Hunger Free Vermont’s outreach programs have substantially enhanced Vermont’s nutrition safety net and increased access to nutritious foods. www.hungerfreevt.org