Where to Get Free Meals for Children 18 and Under

This summer, nearly 37,000 children in Vermont will lose access to what for many is their only balanced meal of the day. Just by nature of not being in school, these children are at risk of going hungry. If you know one of them, here’s how you can help.

All across the state this summer, free meals are available to all kids 18 and under. Families don’t need to enroll or sign up; just visit a site and get free meals for kids. All children, regardless of household income, are encouraged and welcome to attend. 

Nutritious, Kid Friendly Meals with No Enrollment 

Hunger Free Vermont has compiled a list of meal sites across the state where children can eat for free. They include libraries, public parks and pools, churches, camps, and schools — anywhere kids can eat together, rain or shine. Summer enrichment programs operating across the state may also provide free meals to every participant. Many locations offer “grab-and-go” service, as well as the option to pick up multiple meals at once. Summer meals are “nutritious, kid-friendly, and prepared following health and safety standards,” according to Hunger Free Vermont.  

Meal locations can also be found by visiting https://www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids or by dialing 2-1-1. Two federal nutrition programs supply the funding: the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option, which is available through schools only.

Addressing the ‘Summer Learning Loss’

These programs are designed to address the summer nutrition gap. Numerous studies show that access to healthy meals matters to kids’ learning. A well-documented phenomenon, dubbed “summer learning loss,” may be in part due to the loss of nutritious meals otherwise available during school-time. 

Hunger in the summertime contributes to “Summer Learning Loss” and obesity, and prevents children from enjoying their summer break. Summer Meal Programs bridge the gap between school years, giving children, age 18 and under, the fuel they need to play and grow throughout the summer and return to school ready to learn.

~ Vermont Agency of Education

3 Square Meals: The Antidote to Summer Learning Loss?

Is it possible that the antidote to summer learning loss are three good square meals a day? Good nutrition is a fundamental tenet of healthy brain development in children. Increasing evidence points to the importance of nutritious meals throughout the year as one key to children being ready, willing, and able to learn to their full advantage. And importantly, to not slip behind in the summer slump.

Summer meals play a critical role in the health and well-being of Vermont’s youth. With proper nutrition, low-income students maintain their reading and math skills over summer break. When children participate in local summer meal programs, they return to school healthy and ready to learn. 

~ Hunger Free Vermont

Helping Hungry Vermonters Find Meals

In May, the Vermont Foodbank announced the launch of Full Plates VT. The locally funded program provides food boxes comprised of produce and other fresh and shelf-stable items, at drive-through style distribution centers in all 14 counties in Vermont. Registration is required. Find food-drop dates and sites here. The program is currently scheduled to run until September 2021. New dates will continue to be added to the registration website so keep checking back for new distributions. 

Vermont Everyone Eats provides nutritious meals to Vermonters in need of food assistance, as well as a stabilizing source of income for Vermont restaurants, farmers, and food producers. Funded by the Vermont Legislature to address pandemic-related food insecurity, VEE is administered by Southeastern Vermont Community Action, SEVCA. The program will continue services through September 30, 2021, gradually ramping down the number of available meals in an effort to prioritize programming for those most vulnerable.

If your household has lost pay or your childcare expenses have increased, you may be eligible for 3SquaresVT or an increase to the benefit you already receive. To get started, email 3svt@vtfoodbank.org, call 1-855-855-6181 or text VFBSNAP to 85511.

Learn More and Find Resources

Visit Hunger Free Vermont’s website to find out how and where to find summer meals for kids in Vermont.

Learn about other statewide and local community resources for finding food assistance at Vermont Foodbank’s website

Call 2-1-1, option #2. Our Support Counselors are standing by to answer your questions about accessing food in Vermont. We can help you find the right resources and apply for the programs that are right for you and your family. 

Read our blog on food insecurity in Vermont, As Pandemic Compounds Food Insecurity in Vermont, Locals Step Up to Fight Hunger.

Watch our Town Hall on Food Insecurity in the Northeast Kingdom for more resources.

Blog written by Brenda Patoine on behalf of VCN/Vermont Care Partners for COVID Support Vermont, a grant funded by FEMA and the Vermont Department of Mental Health

Need to Talk?

Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.

In Crisis? 

If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support. 

Find Help

Find resources and tools for coping with stress at www.COVIDSupportVT.org.

One-click translation to 100 languages of most everything on the COVIDSupportVT.org website, plus Multilingual Resources.

Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.

COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports. 

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