Program launched to combat hunger in central Vermont

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(Host) A new comprehensive effort is being launched in central Vermont to significantly reduce hunger in the region in the next 3 years.

Organizers of the program hope it will serve as a model for the rest of the state.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The new group is known as the Washington County Hunger Council and it’s comprised of community leaders from a wide range of organizations in the area.

The effort is being spearheaded by the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger with a grant from the Northfield Savings Bank Foundation.

Robert Dostis is the executive director of the group:

(Dostis) “This is the first time where we are bringing the leaders of a community, a specified community, in this case, Washington County, together to address the issue of hunger in a very comprehensive way.”

(Kinzel) Dostis says the problem of hunger has definitely grown in recent years in the state. New federal surveys estimate that about 57,000 Vermonters are at risk of going hungry every day and 4% of all families are at severe risk:

(Dostis) “That’s a trend that we cannot continue. So I think this effort is going to shine a light on the problem, get the right people around the table to break down the barriers to get programs up and running and see where the gaps are. These are smart people. They’ll figure out how to fill those gaps.”

(Kinzel) Joseph Kiefer is the executive director of Food Works. It’s an organization that has worked for over 19 years to bring food and nutrition programs into schools throughout the state.

Kiefer says it’s critical for the public to acknowledge that hunger exists in Vermont.

(Kiefer) “So until we’re aware and know what the issues are and know about the emergency food system and food stamp issues and what’s available and the quality of our school breakfast school lunch programs and the issues that they face, we can’t do anything. So we’re looking at over 3 years. There’s a lot that can be done here.”

(Kinzel) Former Human Services Secretary Con Hogan is a co-chair of the Hunger Council. He wants to take steps to de-stigmatize people who seek food assistance:

(Hogan) “There’s some real evidence that where schools offer let’s just pick one breakfast program for all kids’ it’s not a question of being stigmatized anymore, that all of our children are in the same boat and if we treat all of our children in that same way, that the idea of being picked out because you’re poor or can’t afford breakfast – that begins to fade away.”

(Kinzel) Hogan believes the group can significantly reduce hunger in the county without an influx of new government resources. He says one of the goals of the Council is to maximize the use of existing programs at both the state and federal level.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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