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Reilly: Food Insecurity In Vermont

Very soon now, the school year will come to a close, and usher in a season of summer camps, family vacations, and sun-soaked days.

But for thousands of children in the region, summer will also usher in new struggles with food insecurity.

This means living without reliable access to adequate healthy food, which, in turn, poses a grave threat to both physical and mental health.

Nationally, thirteen million children live in food insecure homes – and roughly eighteen thousand of them are right here in Vermont.

We’ve become numb to these statistics, so it can be easy to forget how disgraceful this is in a country where the stock market is soaring and the four hundred richest Americans saw their collective worth increase by several TRILLION dollars last year. That any child should go hungry in a country with this much concentrated wealth is an outrage.

It’s also within our control.

In the long-term, we can support policies that strengthen SNAP and other childhood nutrition programs. We can vigorously oppose proposed budget cuts to WIC, and efforts to weaken the Census Bureau’s collection of poverty data.

And individually, we can help provide for our neighbors in need through organizations like the Vermont Foodbank, Hunger Free Vermont, Voices for Vermont’s Children and others that are doing important work every day to ease the suffering of food insecure families.

That’s why my own family and I decided to walk in the sixth annual Hearts for Hunger fundraiser in Hinesburg. Event proceeds support the Foodbank’s backpack program – a nationally recognized effort that, with the help of teachers and school administrators, slips nutritious food into the backpacks of children in need. It’s an innovative effort that helps to fill a gap left by school lunch programs over the weekends – and in a way that respects the dignity of struggling children and families.

There’s always more to do, of course. To truly address hunger, we need sustained political will with a laser focus on the roots of systemic poverty and social injustice. But it begins with empathy for our neighbors and an appreciation for our inter-connectedness. It starts with an open heart to our own community.

When writing about hunger in her famous diary, Anne Frank observed with typical optimism, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”