Over the last year or so, we have been heartened to see additional legislation and state and federal funding for food programs. There has been a lot of activity: change, benefits, confusion, paperwork, and deadlines. It’s difficult to keep track of it all and it can be complicated. We wanted to explain a bit about a timely topic being considered in the Vermont State Legislature that pertains to our work in alleviating food insecurity: Universal School Meals.
What is it?
Universal School Meals is a model that allows all students to eat school meals for free. In this model, mealtimes are equitable and there is less stigma among students. More participation in school meals leads to better health, better learning, and a better economy.
What’s been going on during the pandemic?
Federal free school meals restrictions have become more flexible to parallel the economic dislocation, high rates of unemployment, and other challenges facing school families. Schools are reporting that stigma around school meals has been wiped out, more students are eating at school, and more students are more attentive and ready to learn because they are not hungry and worrying about when they will eat next.
Vermont is leading the way!
The State of Vermont has proposed a bill that would make Vermont the first state to provide universal free school meals. This bill has passed in the House Committee on Agriculture and is now being reviewed by the House Committee on Education. The Senate Appropriations Committee has also voted unanimously in support of the bill.
How does the Haven help?
Many of our staff represent our community and the Haven in local and state organizations and advocacy groups, including the Hunger Council of the Upper Valley, Hunger Free Vermont, and Upper Valley Strong’s Food Committee. We are often asked to provide testimony to the Vermont State Legislature based on our experience and involvement in the field.
Our Service Coordinators help community members experiencing poverty navigate barriers to services, with a strong focus on housing. Access to services is cumbersome and not set up to be easy. We are actively exploring how to better guide guests and visitors through processes like signing up for food stamps.
We offer and deliver weekend food boxes to families who participate in our Children’s After-School and Summer Programs, complementing the meals available during the school week.
Our food services (Monthly Food Shelf, Daily Food Shelf, and Grab and Go) are available to anyone regardless of income. We also support off-campus food programs like Moms in Recovery and Ledyard Charter School.
What can you do?
Stay informed and take action whenever possible. Here are some easy ways to keep engaged:
- The Haven works closely with Hunger Free Vermont and the Vermont Foodbank, two important leaders in Vermont food security. They are excellent resources for Vermont residents to learn more and take action to help end food insecurity in the Green Mountain State.
- Like or follow the Haven’s Facebook page. We highlight important legislation and action steps based on local advocacy efforts.
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