Letter to the editor: ‘Universal Meals’ plan could work in Vermont

There is a growing program in the U.S. that is guaranteeing both breakfast and lunch to all public school students: Universal Meals. I would like to suggest that Vermont seriously consider enacting this program for our schools.

California is spearheading it. It costs them $5 million to ensure that every child starts the day with breakfast and has lunch (6.2 million students). Of course, California is substantially larger than Vermont (approx. 78,000 students as of Feb., 2021), so it would cost us nowhere near this sum. But perhaps California is not a wealthier per capita anymore, as the financial landscape of Vermont has changed throughout the last 30 years as more and more well-to-do retirees and “quality-of-life” searchers move into the state, and more young Vermont families continue to move out to more affordable areas (thus, schools closing due to lack of kids). Maine has started the program as well, and that state is more like our own.

This being said, those kids remaining in our state who barely get enough to eat, believe it or not, need our help. Struggling parents don’t quite fall far enough into the “acceptable” poverty level to ask for help feeding their growing children. Also, there is still a stigma in schools associated with kids getting “free lunch” through no fault of their own (I have been both an elementary teacher and a lunchroom manager, so I have seen this myself). If every child received a free meal twice a day, this would make them better, more productive students (fact!). Brains work much better when given good nutrition, as do young bodies.

It’s easy not to think of kids during the day in their schools … “someone else will take care of it” … no, they won’t, because they don’t have the money to do so. Let’s get together, all you liberal Vermonters, and make sure that our kids from preschool through high school get two enjoyable, nutritious meals a day, five days a week.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (and others) have introduced the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 for this exact purpose (as part of the Rehabilitation Act, as well as making sure that kids are fed during the summer months away from school (only one in seven kids now get lunch at home) and in after-school programs (frac.org). Our own Vermont State Senate has proposed S100 to do the same thing.

I truly believe that we can afford this. Let’s do this, because we do care!

Carolyn Van Vleck


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