This week’s blog was written by Vermont Foodbank Ambassador Jane M. Vossler.  Jane has been working with the Vermont Foodbank on a number of important projects, including Hunger 101 and Summer Food Service Program.  Recently, Jane spent the day in Canaan, Vermont, visiting one of our Summer Food Service sites.

Maja, who will be entering fourth grade in the fall, was just finishing her lunch when I sat down to ask her about Canaan, Vermont’s summer program. “I love it!” she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling.  “I really like the theatre program.  We do skits and a play at the end of each week, and I like how we get to make our own costumes.  I’m going to be a seahorse in the Nemo play this week.  You should see the jellyfish. They have umbrellas with strings hanging all around them!” 

This is Maja’s first year in the Vermont Foodbank–sponsored five-week program that serves breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack and offers programming in theatre, science, cooking and outdoor adventures for any child in the community.  Maja admitted that it would be “kind of boring at home, especially when your parents are at work.”  She said that here she “can be with friends and do fun activities.”

She told me she really liked the food and that they have a choice of fruit.  Today’s choices were watermelon, cantaloupe, and an apple.  She also liked it that the students got a snack in the afternoon. 

Luke and Erik who were sitting across from Maja joined the conversation. They agreed the snacks were awesome.  Luke’s favorite was popcorn and Erik’s was blueberry muffins.  Luke made sure to tell me that his favorite meal was Monday’s breakfast of ham and eggs.  Both boys are entering 3rd grade and are very excited to be in the program.  Luke loves how they can “do science,” especially “looking for bugs.”  However, he was also looking forward to cooking and the other programs.  He said that if he were at home, he’d probably be playing Wii. It was clear that he liked what he was doing in the program more than Wii.

Of the approximately 50 students who attend the program, most are in elementary school.  I noticed four middle school girls and went to join them at their table.  I wondered if they’d have the same enthusiasm as the younger students I’d just talked with. “We do activities that we don’t do in school,” said Madison.  “It’s a fun environment, and we get to see our friends.”  It sounded a lot like what Maja had said. 

“The activities help us with reading and math so we don’t lose our skills over the summer,” explained Olivia.  The staff has been ingenious in weaving reading and math skills into each program. The girls said that in their multi-age cooking class they read “really nice picture books about cooking.”  In Outdoor Adventures the teacher is reading aloud a book of adventure stories.  “I love to be read to,” said Madison who is going into 8th grade.  Complaining about cafeteria food is common among middle school students I’ve known, but when I asked about the food the girls all agreed that it was very good.  

Attempts by schools to continue to provide nutritious meals through the summer tend to be far more successful when combined with transportation and programming.  For many children, there’s no way to get to school for the meals, so the Canaan program provides transportation.  Exciting activities draw students to school in the summer. The Canaan students’ enthusiasm for their classes is proof that the people who designed the programming know what children like. Parents know their children are in a safe, supervised environment where they’re getting good food, continuing their education, and having fun.  By wrapping hands-on programs infused with math and literacy skills around two nutritious meals and a snack each day, multiple needs are met and everyone wins.

The statistics on childhood hunger in Vermont, as in the rest of the nation, can be depressing.  Many wonder what can be done to make a difference.  The Canaan school system in partnership with the Vermont Foodbank, who writes the grant proposals and does the administrative work, have created an impressive summer program.  Each day approximately 50 engaged, enthusiastic, and happy children show up for learning, socializing, and healthy food.  What better way for children to spend part of the summer?  What better way to strike a blow at childhood hunger?

Jane Vossler is a retired Vermont teacher of 30 years.  Jane live in Richmond and when she isn’t volunteering at the Vermont Foodbank and writing for her local paper, Jane enjoys gardening, reading and kayaking.