New program fights hunger in Bristol

BRISTOL — An expanding food program at Bristol Elementary School will give more children access to healthy food during the week, and also on weekends.
The initiative, called “Bites in a Bag,” is a partnership between the Bristol Have-A-Heart Food Shelf, the Bristol Elementary food service staff and parent volunteers.
The group sends students home at the end of each week with a snack bag stocked with foods such as cheese sticks, yogurt, popcorn, fruits and vegetables.
Rebecca Price, the director of the Have-a-Heart Food Shelf, which is based at the St. Ambrose church in Bristol, said Bites in a Bag was a big success when it began last year.
“It’s a very important program,” Price said. “Only nutritious food goes in those backpacks, and no one should go hungry.”
Funding for the program comes from a federal grant administered by the Food and Nutrition Service, a division of the USDA.  It was modeled after a program run by the Vermont Food Bank in other schools across the state, which targets students that qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The volunteers involved said they hope to eventually integrate Bristol Elementary School into that program, so that other schools in the five-town Addison Northeast Supervisory Union could participate. This could be more easily accomplished than starting from scratch, since the infrastructure for such a program is already in place at Bristol Elementary.
“We’re hoping to hook up with food programs across the state,” Price said. “There are a lot more kids out there we could reach, but we don’t have the resources at this point.”
Volunteers work with food shelf organizers and the Bristol Elementary food service staff to create a budget for the program and place wholesale orders. Every Friday, two parent volunteers stuff the bags full of the healthy snacks and deliver them to classrooms. This year, the program serves 36 students. Price said an affiliation with a larger organization like the Vermont Food Bank would help Bites in a Bag serve more students in the future.
When the food shelf asked for feedback from the 25 initial recipients and their parents, Price said what organizers heard was positive.
“It was wonderful; they all said, ‘This is great,’” Price said. “It really helps them out a lot just to get through the weekend.”
Price said that teaching good eating habits is essential because of Addison County’s agricultural roots.
The total annual cost of the program is $4,000. Last year children benefited from a $1,500 grant from Catholic Charities, while donations to the food shelf funded the rest. Price said the cost of running the program this year is slightly higher than expected, and donations to the food shelf are always welcomed.
Residents interested in donating to the program should send checks addressed to Rebecca Price, Have-A-Heart Food Shelf Director, 928 Stony Hill Road, Bristol, VT 05443. Write “Bites in a Bag” in the memo line. For questions, call Price at (802) 453-3187.

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