Summer is here, and for thousands of kids in Vermont the meals they receive through school breakfast and lunch programs are the only ones they can count on during the school year. One in 5 Vermont children, under the age of 18, struggles with hunger. Imagine those children during the summer months not knowing when they’ll be able to eat again.

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a USDA program, answers the call to this bleak scenario. The program is sponsored by organizations throughout the country and provides children in high-need communities with free, nutritious meals during the long summer months when school isn’t in session and school breakfast and lunch programs aren’t available. In 2012, the Vermont Foodbank and program staff will tend to more than 100 children at two sites in the Northeast Kingdom, a very rural, high-need area, by providing a nutritious breakfast and lunch and offer a variety of enrichment activities. The sites in Canaan and West Charleston, serve a federal school meal participation rate of 47% or higher – according to the Vermont Department of Education’s 2010-2011 report.

In Canaan, a town with a population of 1,085 people, the number of SFSP participants has tripled since the program began in 2009. Ilene Elliott, program director at the Canaan School, explains that with the isolation of the Canaan area from the rest of the state, there are few employment opportunities. Most jobs are with the U.S. board patrol, U.S. customs, the school or recreation/tourism jobs. Once there had been a furniture factory and logging and pulp mills that employed many people in the area. Over the past 3 years these businesses have left the area or gone out of business. With the loss of jobs came the struggle for parents to provide for their children.

Ilene believes with SFSP, not only are children getting the nutritious meals they need to thrive, they are also a part of a stimulating learning environment and are enriched through the array of activities. Activities like outdoor adventures, theatre science activities and cooking provide experiences the children would not have if it were not for the Summer Food Service Program. Ilene works with the Alice Ward Memorial Library that offers a themed program and again, via CLiF (Children’s Literacy Foundation), will provide kid’s with free books throughout the summer. “We work with the resources we have to provide enrichment to the kids,” says Ilene. With sessions filled with nutritious food, educational activities, tutoring and quality staff, children will continue to not only be mentally and physically healthy, but happy and joyful about their summer experiences.

This is the first in a series that will focus on the Vermont Foodbank’s Summer Food Service Program. Throughout the summer, learn about all facets of SFSP from different people involved with the program. Stay tuned!