The Winooski School District plans to make free food and clothing available for students and their families when its new expanded school complex opens next August

Jaycie Puttlitz, wellness coordinator for WSD, said the necessity store’s items will come from donations, and every student is welcome to take what they need. “The intention to have it in the front area, so that families can come up at the end of the school or beginning of school, whenever they happen to be there,” she said. “This is a place where students can come to get what they need, without any kind of question.” 

The Vermont Food Bank will be a key partner in the project. CEO John Sayles said the goal is to offer food that appeals to families in one of the most diverse cities in the state.

“We will make sure we have halal and kosher and sometimes different kinds of vegetables like melons and greens, that perhaps other communities wouldn’t be as excited about,” Sayles said. 

According to the Vermont Agency of Education, the Winooski School District has the highest concentration of low-wealth students in Vermont, with about about 98 percent of families qualifying for the federal free lunch program.

Mohamed Diop, a behavior interventionist at WSD, said it is more difficult for hungry children to succeed in school. “As you know financially we are not all equal,” Diop said. “An empty sack, belly, can not stand alone — we do understand that already.”

Sayles said there is nothing more important than getting the right food to kids. 

“These are our future Vermonters who are going to be taking jobs and building businesses and running our government, and we want to make sure they are getting the nutrition they need to grow,” Sayles said.