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Summer Meals Program Picks Up Where School Lunches Leave Off

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides funding for summer meal programs, expects to offer 200 million free meals this year to kids 18 and under. Vermont has ranked 4th in the nation for utilization of the program, up from 5th last year.

For many kids, summer vacation is a well-deserved break.  But for millions of families who rely on free or reduced priced meals at school, summers can be difficult.   

So how big a need is there? The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides funding for summer meal programs, expects to offer 200 million free meals this year to kids 18 and under. 

Despite that, the Food Research and Action Center reports that only about 15 percent of kids nationwide who eat free or reduced priced school meals also receive meals during the summer. Nonprofits in Vermont trying to address that gap say one of the biggest hurdles is getting the word out.

But Vermont is making headway: The state ranked 4th in the nation for utilization of the summer meals program, up from 5th last year.

According to Hunger Free Vermont, nearly 420,000 meals were served in 2014, an increase of more than 12 percent from the previous year.

Ashley Bride, executive director of Fair Haven Concern, which operates one of 12 sites in Rutland County,  says their nonprofit served nearly 8,000 meals last summer, triple the year before. “We’re always surprised each year by the number,” says Bride.

Bride says their numbers have risen because they’ve expanded their outreach to include more summer academy and recreation department programs. She says they also partner closely with schools year round to make sure families know about the service. “So that those folks that are really relying on breakfast and lunch at school can still rely on breakfast and lunch at school, because we actually use the kitchen at Fair Haven grade school.”

Fair Haven’s meal program begins Monday. Find other sites that offer children free meals in Vermont here.

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