Burlington, Winooski to offer free lunches for students this summer

School is out, but Burlington students can enjoy free breakfast, lunch and snacks all summer long.

The Burlington Schools Food Project will begin its program to provide low-income children of Burlington free meals beginning Monday.

“I see the program as really filling an important need in the summer,” said Amanda Caron, child nutrition advocate for Hunger Free Vermont, which is a partner of the program.

Caron said the program keeps children healthy during the summer months when school meals are not available. She said the program also engages students in other educational and physical activities, preparing them for the transition back to school.

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, which is designed to provide food for low-income children during the summer months. Children under the age of 18 are eligible for the free meals.

Caron said the percentage of children who rely on summer meal assistance has been inching up in Vermont.

According to the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program’s guidelines, meal service sites are eligible for reimbursement if 50 percent of the children in the area are low income as measured by 2007-2011 American Community Survey census data.

Caron said the Burlington School District became eligible for the free meals reimbursement program in 2012, even though it had been offering similar programs previously. She said Winooski is also eligible and provides a similar service.

According to USDA’s data on the Summer Food Service Program, the total reimbursements for summer meals programs in Vermont was $869,246 in 2012, up from $326,475 in 2008.

Caron said last year, the Burlington-based program served 51,774 meals, costing $131,399, which was reimbursed by the USDA.

There are other similar summer meals programs throughout the state. However, Caron said programs have trouble in rural locations because it is harder to get children together at a remote meal site.

Also, Caron said many schools have to work with tighter budgets, which makes it difficult to staff sites during the summer. She said many locations depend on money from other activities that is used to supplement the meal service.

“We’re definitely seeing some challenges and some threats,“ Caron said.

Eight sites in Burlington will participate in the program: Burlington High School; Edmunds School cafeteria; Hunt Middle School; C.P. Smith School; Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes; King Street Youth Center; Franklin Square Apartments; and Riverside Neighborhood.

John Herrick

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