Free Summer Meals for Kids Program Expands to Windsor

Windsor, Vt - One Vermont community struggled for years to get free summer meals for kids in their town. All of that work has now paid off.

Kids packed the gym at Windsor's Recreation Center for the first day of summer camp.

"This is where a lot of the kids come during the summer," said Donna Ewald.

Gym teacher Donna Ewald is taking on a new role this year. She's making sure all kids get free meals while they're not in school.
"It's really fun to see them and connect with them. and see that they're eating healthy food," she said.

This is the first summer Windsor is offering the program at sites around town. Anyone, from a toddler to an 18-year-old, can get lunch for free no matter the family's income level.
 "We needed a more structured environment, where there would always be a time frame where students could come and know that there's a place they could come to get food during the summer," Ewald said.

More the 350 locations in the Green Mountain State, including schools and libraries, worked with the USDA's Summer Food Service Program last year, which provides free meals to kids during the summer months. The program kicks off this week.

The non-profit Hunger Free Vermont and folks from Mt. Ascutney Hospital helped put it together locally.

"Access to food is a problem for folks," Jill Lord, the Director of Community Health at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Medical Center.

Lord is coordinating volunteers at each location. The hospital put together a needs assessment for the community, finding that 28-percent of families that used its pediatric services were had trouble putting food on the table by the end of the month.

The town wasn't eligible in previous years for the free summer meals program, because there weren't enough families that met the threshold.

In order to qualify for the USDA program, 50-percent of students enrolled in the local schools had to receive free or reduced lunches. According to Hunger Free Vermont, only 48-percent of kids in Windsor were part of the program. Last summer, a group of people in the town coordinated a backpack lunch program to help out.

With census data, Hunger Free Vermont was able to target specific pockets of need in the community that could apply for the program.

"So each of the sites that we've selected in town are in areas of the town that are eligible for the program," Lord said.

Hunger Free Vermont and volunteers in Windsor have also expanded the program to include affordable rate or low income housing locations.

Union Square Apartments is one of them. The complex offers some affordable rate units.

Josh Jackson knows what it's like.

"We totally understand because we were there at one point in time," he said.

Now, he and is family are doing better and want to give back.

Jackson is now supervising the site, making sure other people get the nutrition they need.

 "Build our community even tighter and at the same time feed needy children in our area," Jackson said.

There will be a kick off event in Windsor for the summer meals program. It's happening at noon on Friday at the Windsor Recreation Center, all are welcome.

According to Hunger Free Vermont, Vermont is ranked 3rd in the nation for offering free summer meals. Last year, more than 480,000 children participated in the program.

For more details about where summer meals are offered in your community, click here.

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