Summer meals program starts June 24

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Thirty-four thousand.

That's about how many meals the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union's summer meal program provided last year.

Program leader Maureen O'Neil wants that number to increase this summer — maybe even to 40,000 meals, she said. She calls that target a "cheerleading to [ourselves] sort of goal."

"We have the ability to make that amount of food," she said. "It's just having a place to feed the kids."

Organizers are always looking for more feeding sites where they can provide meals for those 18 and under in Bennington County, O'Neil said.

"We'd love to have more [sites]," she said. "The more sites we have, the more kids we can feed."

That's particularly important for some areas, like Pownal, where some parents don't have transportation to get their children to the current meal sites, she said.

On average, organizers provide 800 breakfasts and 1,200 or 1,300 lunches a day during the program, which runs June 24 to Aug. 2 this year, Monday through Friday. Meals consist of things like deli sandwiches, chicken Caesar salad, and a perennial favorite — chicken nuggets.

It's very hard for some parents to feed children in the summer, as they're making the same amount of money, but have the added expense of food that their children would otherwise eat in school, O'Neil said.

When O'Neil started in 2009, the program served only about 400 meals during the summer.

"We've worked really, really hard at outreach and making this thing known," she said.

And there's still food insecurity in the community.

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"Nurses come to me every week, especially during a school vacation week," she said.

They're concerned about students not having enough to eat when they're not in school.

"They're so food-insecure, we're worried about them during our vacation time," O'Neil said.

Long-term, summer meal program organizers would like to have a food truck.

"We could go to more sites and feed the kids," O'Neil said. "It's a goal of ours. That certainly would help us reach 40,000 [meals]."

One thing that impacts the meal program in the SVSU is household income data, collected in the household income form that's sent home in school packets every year, O'Neil said.

That information is handled by only one person at the SVSU level, and then it's sent to the Agency of Education. The data is used in relation to the community eligibility provision, which allows the nation's highest-poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students.

The summer lunch program is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It's important that families are aware the program is available, O'Neil said.

"It's available," she said. "It's really important that families know their children can be fed."

Summer meal site locations will be posted on hungerfreevt.org in June.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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