Middlebury-area kids can get free food, fun this summer
The biggest change is what the state is calling ‘pods’ of children. At our day camp, each pod will have 20 children and five counselors.
— Dustin Hunt
MIDDLEBURY — The coronavirus has succeeded in canceling and delaying many special events and celebrations, but it doesn’t look like the pandemic will affect Middlebury-area kids’ ability to get free food and have access to limited recreation programs this summer.
That was the word late last week from local childcare advocates, Middlebury Parks & Recreation Superintendent Dustin Hunt and Vermont Department of Health leaders, who met May 14. At this point, offerings are slated to include Middlebury Rec’s Camp Kookamunga and Mary John Children’s Center’s summer program.
Free food through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be offered in Middlebury not only to participants at the summer programs, but also to all area kids up to and including age 18.
“We are still waiting on guidelines from the USDA to see how these (free summer) meals can be offered, but our plan now is to offer brown bag lunches similar to what the school district has been doing for the past few months,” Hunt told the Independent.
Hunt and fellow organizers are considering a drive-through system for families to pick up the meals, or distributing them from a central location at Middlebury’s Recreation Park.
“The plan is to start the last week of June and run through mid-August,” Hunt said. “Right now, we aren’t sure the effect this will have on the program financially so we encourage people who would like to contribute to get in touch with either Mary Johnson Children’s Center or Middlebury Parks & Recreation.”
The MJCC has been the local applicant for the summer food program. Meals are prepared in the Mary Hogan Elementary School kitchen. Anne Gleason, MJCC’s school age coordinator, continues to explore ways of getting the free food to children who can’t make it to the meal site. She’s looking for volunteers to help distribute the food, and has an offer of a food van.
Gleason suspects use of the food could dip by as much as 50% this year if there’s no delivery option. That scenario played out during school vacation week, when buses stopped driving the food throughout the Addison Central School District, she said.
Gleason believes the Mount Abraham Unified School District will be able to continue to deliver free food to Bristol-area kids throughout the summer, as a result of savings in the district’s transportation contract. County residents should check with their school district offices to confirm whether there’s a delivery option for free summer food.
Rebecca Mitchell is child nutrition program manager for Hunger Free Vermont, a nonprofit that advocates for children and adults who don’t have enough to eat. She urged Addison County residents to fill out an application for free- and reduced-price school meals (if they meet the financial qualifications). The USDA has granted Vermont a waiver so it can continue to provide free meals to all children through the end of this academic year. The state is seeking to extend that waiver through the summer, knowing many Vermonters have seen their resources plummet during the pandemic.
Under normal circumstances, free summer meals are granted to communities in which at least 50% of the children live in households that qualify for free- or reduced-price school meals. Mitchell wants to see many towns qualify based on that income criterion as insurance in case the feds don’t extend the free food waiver through this summer.
Application forms can be found at tinyurl.com/y97wptpy, and should be returned to residents’ school district offices before the end of this school year.
Meanwhile, Hunt and his colleagues are still researching which specific recreation programs can be offered this summer.
“We are taking things on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “We will work with our individual instructors to identify programs we think might be able to run while still remaining in compliance with state and federal guidelines. The health and safety of all our participants is paramount and we are taking all the necessary steps to make sure we are prepared and trained for the coming months ahead.”
State authorities last week paved the way for Vermont childcare facilities and summer programs to open on June 1, under restrictions aimed at thwarting the spread of COVID-19. Restrictions include health screening for each camper every morning, requiring counselors to wear masks (and strong recommendations for any child older than 2 to wear one as well), and increased handwashing and disinfecting each day.
“The biggest change is what the state is calling ‘pods’ of children,” Hunt said. “At our day camp, each pod will have 20 children and five counselors. We are planning on having between two and four pods each week and each pod cannot interact with the other pods at camps. The state is doing this in hopes that if a positive COVID-19 test was identified at any camp that only that pod of children would need to isolate and that contact tracing would be easier in smaller groups.”
Summer status of the municipal swimming pool in Middlebury is still up in the air, as it is in Vergennes.
“We simply don’t have enough guidance from the state yet to decide when or if it would be safe to open,” Hunt said. “At this point I think it is safe to say that we will not be opening until at least July, however our maintenance staff will be working in the next few weeks to fill the pool and get it ready so when we get the go-ahead from the state we can begin operating pretty quickly. In the meantime, we are having discussions about still offering aquatic programming such as swim team and swim lessons in small groups before we open to the public.”
Gleason does not anticipate any Mary John Children’s Center summer recreation programming outside of Middlebury this year, due to COVID-19 factors.
“It’s a combination of people concerned about (COVID) and being unsure about their jobs,” Gleason said. “The rules for (summer programming) are quite restrictive, and rightly so. It does take some doing.”
Mary Johnson’s Middlebury summer program will take 85 children. Slots will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to Gleason, who can be contacted at [email protected] As of late last week, 58 of the 85 slots had been filled, she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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