HOPE joins countywide effort to feed children during school breaks

MIDDLEBURY — Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) is joining a countywide effort to make sure children from low-income homes don’t go hungry this summer, when they no longer have access to school meals.
Jeanne Montross, executive director of HOPE, said the organization is particularly focused on meeting the nutritional needs of kids in the communities of Starksboro, Leicester, Whiting, Shoreham and Bridport. A lot of transportation-challenged families in these towns find it hard to get to service hubs in Middlebury, Bristol and Vergennes, and thus can’t conveniently access local food shelves or federal programs that help folks put food on the table during tough times.
Montross acknowledged several Addison County communities — including Starksboro and Leicester — will host drop-in summer meal sites offering free breakfasts and lunches to children up to 18 years old. But Montross noted some children can’t get to the locations at which these meals are served. So HOPE officials are devising a program to help get food to isolated families during times when schools are closed.
It’s an idea born late last year during the federal government shutdown, which lasted from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019. Human services advocates during that period warned the shutdown could begin to affect meal subsidies at public schools.
“We were concerned about whether the schools would be able to provide lunches,” Montross said.
At the same time, winter vacation was approaching, and HOPE officials wondered how low-income families might weather the storm of having no free and reduced-cost lunches and breakfasts for their children.
“We purchased and put aside a bunch of food and got the food to four different schools,” Montross said. “We selected those because we wanted to reach some of the underserved areas of the community.”
Children at Starksboro, Leicester-Whiting, Shoreham and Bridport elementary schools were offered free HOPE provisions that included juice boxes, fruit snacks, pasta, eggs, milk, cheese, cereals, peanut butter and jelly. Children were able to take batches of food home with them on the bus on the last day of school prior to vacation.
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church has put together food packages for kids entering the Easter vacation, according to Montross.
“That’s been really helpful,” she said.
The Independent spoke with Montross in a HOPE conference room that was doubling as storage space for 350 pounds of food recently donated by the Middlebury College Student Athlete Advisory Committee. That food was included in food packages for children to take home prior to the this week-long spring vacation, which began this past Friday, April 19.
Lily Bradburn is HOPE’s local food access coordinator.
“When it comes time for school breaks and summer breaks, it creates such a void for meals,” Bradburn said. “It’s a huge burden to put on families.”
She and other HOPE officials often hear a common refrain from food shelf visitors during school breaks.
“They say, ‘All my kids are home, I have to feed them; they emptied my cupboard in a couple of days,’” she said. “Feeding kids takes so much more food than some people realize.”
Both Bradburn and HOPE realize it’ll be a challenge to get food to the children that need it during the summer, when there’ll no longer be school bus service. Montross cited drop-points, summer camp locations and volunteer delivery people as among potential solutions.
“This is in the early stages,” she stressed.
Anyone able to help HOPE’s summer meals effort as a volunteer or donor should contact Bradburn at [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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