Programs fight food insecurity for children during school break

Valley News
Published: 12/21/2021 5:02:57 PM
Modified: 12/21/2021 5:02:43 PM

Area school districts and nonprofit organizations are encouraging families experiencing food insecurity to contact food pantries over the holiday break.

It’s a difficult time for families in need whose children depend on meal programs at their school. Last year, districts were able to continue to provide meals to students to get them through the holiday break — often delivered in the form of boxes that contained food for simple meals — but this year, the federal program that allowed them to do so no longer exists. 

“It provided an opportunity and a structure to provide meals in a very easy way,” said Tim Morgan, child nutrition and program data manager at Hunger Free Vermont and a member of the Hunger Council of the Upper Valley. “It was a great opportunity for a lot of schools and provided a lot of food to families over the holidays last year.”

To a degree, this year the need is even greater: Fuel, food and other items are more expensive and there are not as many programs to provide financial assistance. The surge of COVID-19 cases in the region has also made it more difficult.

“Of course this fall into this winter we've seen rising food costs and the holiday season is always a difficult time and when food needs are often highest,” Morgan said.

So instead school districts are doing what they did before: Turning to area nonprofit organizations to help support students.

“Last year we took advantage of every opportunity that we could to feed kids,” Mascoma Valley Regional School District Superintendent Amanda Isabelle said.

The district would send students home with boxes of food, including easy-to-prepare meals like chicken nuggets and turkey wraps. In some ways, that was similar to what the district did before the pandemic, but the funding source just changed. The district has a strong partnership with the Friends of Mascoma Foundation, which is planning to distribute around 100 boxes to families on Wednesday.

“We are able to support any child or family that comes to us requesting support,” Isabelle said.

On the Vermont side of the Upper Valley, the Everyone Eats program is one way that those food needs can be met. In that program, restaurants cook meals and distribute them to food shelves, schools and senior centers, among other organizations, that give them out to people who need them.

“We are distributing more meals from the Everyone Eats program to our school partners to try and help cover the breaks,” Beth Roy, director of Food & Farm and place-based education programming at Vital Communities, wrote in an email.

Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent David Baker sent out a food resource list put together by various nonprofit organizations including Hunger Free Vermont, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

“There is never a reason for families to worry about having food on the table, especially dur ing the Holiday season,” Baker wrote in a newsletter. “Our community Food Shelves are very active this time of year and the Upper Valley (our community) supports those food programs generously.”

Morgan also encouraged people to call 211 to be connected with resources in their area.

“This is an expensive time of year and along with food assistance programs there are resources out there (including) heating assistance to help families with utility bills during the winter months,” Morgan said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.



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