Vermonters are working to make free, universal school meals permanent in the state.

“It just a basic equity issue when it comes to education. Kids cannot learn well, if they cannot eat well,” said campaign manager Teddy Waszazak with Hunger-Free Vermont.

During the pandemic, the need for universal school meals was heightened, prompting the USDA to issue temporary waivers for free breakfast and lunch, regardless of families incomes. But Waszazak says these waivers are set to expire at the end of the school year.

“So the campaign is advocating to make the universal school meal system permanent in Vermont,” said Waszazak.

Since 2011, he and his colleagues have tried to make universal school meals the norm in Vermont. Last year, their bill made it through the Senate. In January, they plan to meet with lawmakers again to get it passed.

“I remember as a kid buying lunch tickets, and did I bring my money and ‘oh shoot, I didn’t,'” said Burlington resident Jessica Savage.

Savage is a mother of two young children.  She says she’s glad to see her daughter’s school work to reduce the stigma around school meals.  

“It’s part of what being in the classroom is for these children and I don’t know from my kid especially she needs that in order to focus on anything,” said Savage.

Wazazak says he remembers the challenges he faced at lunch time and is determined to change that narrative for Vermont’s students. 

“I’ve been on my own since I was 15. I often did not eat in school because I didn’t have parents to fill out the paper work and could not afford to buy the meals on my own,” said Waszazak. “We need to be providing for them because I know personally what it’s like to have to go without those things and then also be expected to perform well in school and it’s frankly impossible.”

He encourages Vermonters to get involved in the campaign and sign the support card.