Vermont leads in nutrition programs for low income students

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(Host) According to a new report, Vermont is one of the leading states in the country in providing school nutrition programs to lower income students.

But the report also shows that Vermont is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to making these programs available to younger children in child care centers.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The report was released by the Food Research and Action Center and the results were startling and troubling to many people in the child nutrition field.

Here’s the good news. Vermont ranks 6th in the country when it comes to providing access to subsidized school breakfast and lunch programs because 90 % of all schools in the state now have these services available.

But when it comes to younger children who attend child care centers, the situation is very different.

The report found that only half of all low income students in these centers have access to a subsidized food program – as a result Vermont ranks 49th in the country in this category.

Robert Dostis is the executive director of the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger.

(Dostis) “So we have some work to do in trying to expand that program and get it into those centers and those homes because they do help assure that very young children get at least one good meal while there in the child care center sometimes two depending on how they’re in there for.”

(Kinzel) Dostis says his organization is launching a comprehensive outreach program to encourage child care centers to offer these services:

(Dostis) “Our job now in doing outreach is educating them about the program and helping them through the application process and addressing any issues they may have.”

(Kinzel) Judy Pranksi has been offering subsidized nutrition programs at both of her child care centers in St. Johnsbury and at the Laughing Turtle Camp in Cabot for over 20 years.

She encourages other child care centers to participate in the program because it provides essential nutrition to many younger children. Pranski says a recent letter from a single mother summed up the reasons why she offers these programs:

(Pranski) “It almost broke my heart. But the fact is she knows they’re getting a great breakfast, a great lunch, a great afternoon snack, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and she was just saying thanks. And a lot of parents do that. A lot of parents know that it makes the difference.”

(Kinzel) Pranski says the initial application process can seem overwhelming but she says most child care centers already have all the information that’s needed. And she says the benefits of the program far outweigh any additional administrative requirements.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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