Program provides free meals for youngsters

By:  Bryanna Allen

For many children, when summer rolls around, it means the start of cookouts, camping and lazy days spent in the sun, free of homework.

But for a growing number of others, the season comes with the stress of keeping bellies full once school is out, with free and reduced-cost breakfast and lunch unavailable with schools out of session. 

Here’s where the Summer Meals program comes into play. 

The program is federally funded and sponsored by Hunger Free Vermont and the Vermont Agency of Education. These organizations coordinate with schools, recreation departments and other community facilities to provide healthy meals for children during the summer. 

There are 270 meal sites scattered throughout the state, and 12 of them are in Rutland County.

Each site provides breakfast, lunch or both, depending on the availability of volunteers. Each site has a specific block of time for children to stop by for a nutritious meal, free, and available to any child younger than 18. 

And unlike free and reduced lunches at school, no registration or income qualification is required. 

“Any child who needs a meal can get a meal — no one is ever turned away,” said Anore Horton, nutrition initiatives director for Hunger Free Vermont.

In fact, Horton said, the more children who take advantage of the program, the more federal funding the program will receive, enabling more meals for more children. 

The reason why breakfast and lunches are available to all children during the summer but only a select number during the school year is based on when the different policies were put into place.

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