As the summer winds down and the Summer Food Service site’s program in Canaan is wrapping up, some of the children are busy getting ready to put on plays based on their favorite books. Others are doing activities like playing Duck, Duck, Goose using a sponge and water to choose their pursuer or running around a huge parachute. And still others are in their favorite classes.

I chose to spend some time with kids taking part in a cooking class. With it being their last day,the kids spent their time learning to work together and create a fun, nutritious dessert of gelatin and fresh fruit. I forgot that making gelatin was so much fun! The kids were animated and so enthusiastic. I caught myself grinning; laughing. One little boy asked if I liked to cook. When I told him I didn’t know how to cook very well. He offered to show me how to “cook” what they’re making. When their culinary masterpiece was complete, they shared it with each other. And it was inspiring to see  how quick they were to help each other with measuring and cleaning up.

Finally, it was time for lunch. The cafeteria doors open, the kids swarmed in. Today there was a selection of freshly cut melon and kiwi, salad, milk and wheat crust pizza, handmade with fresh ingredients. One little guy was asked how he liked his lunch and he gave two thumbs up.  Another little boy, Tristan, was chomping on melon while excitedly chattering about their field trip to Jay Peak Water Park. The local school bus company generously donated their buses, staff and time to make this special day happen and Ilene Elliot, program director, couldn’t be more appreciative.

Ilene feels that one of the successes this year was, “providing busing in order to get some students to the program who had not been able to attend in the past. Twenty five students used the daily bus service. Some of the kids attending would not have had two good meals a day if they had not attended.”

Each week an average of 53 kids attended the program. Everyone one of them benefitted from attending the program. One of the older girls, who is very quiet and often does not seem comfortable with her peers, seemed delighted to have a starring role in one of the plays performed today. Ilene saw an unexpected benefit that helped one little boy flourish. This was the built-in playground time with students from grades K through 8. “Students had opportunities to play with and socialize with younger and older students which led to some older students stepping into leader/mentor/role models and younger students acting more capable than typical as they rose to higher expectations,” stated Ilene. The young boy was one of the smallest and youngest attending and faced some physical limitations. Every day he went out with the kids and played just as hard and gave no thought to limitations. The other children, younger and older, treated him no differently and helped out when it was needed. Ilene and other staff feel he has gotten stronger emotionally and physically throughout his time in the program. She also relayed that, “a number of students who find the academic demands during the school year enjoyed the more relaxed learning atmosphere of the summer combination of recreation and academics. And a number of kids would have been home, some alone, without any stimulation or activity for the entire summer if they had not been able to attend.”

Thanks to Ilene, her staff and the Summer Food Service Program made sure the children were stimulated in new learnings and had two nutritious meals a day, thus ensuring kids truly had a summer to remember and are looking forward to a new school year.

This piece was written by Melissa Baptiewright, the annual fund manager at the Vermont Foodbank.  Melissa has been visiting the SFSP site in Canaan all summer, getting to know the kids and staff. Melissa is a regular contributor to the Vermont Foodbank Blog. You can contact Melissa at