by Elizabeth Parker
MONTPELIER — This summer each day Monday through Friday from July 6 through August 14, 20 to 50 school children from Montpelier had lunches on the terrace in front of the Montpelier Senior Center. This new lunch program germinated from the mission of Just Basics, Inc. to bring together structures and programs that work with members of the greater Montpelier area to address their basic needs and confront cycles of injustice. Just Basics runs the Montpelier Food Pantry in the basement at the Methodist Church and the FEAST Program at the Montpelier Senior Center.
Census data established that more than 50 percent of the children in the Barre Street neighborhood are eligible for free lunches during the school year and therefore meet the eligibility criteria to offer an open site lunch program. The Summer Food for Kids lunches were available for all children to age 18 regardless of income. Support for the lunches came from the Federal School Lunch Program and local sponsors including: National Life, United Way, The Montpelier Rotary, the Montpelier Housing Authority, The Montpelier Senior Activity Center, Community Connections, Hunger Mountain Coop, The Kellogg Hubbard Library and the MHS Time of Need Garden, as well as many volunteers who gave of their time to support this new venture.
Lunches were sourced from local food when possible. A selection of vegetables, fruits and a main course was served. This year the lunches were prepared by a contractor who supplies lunches for the U-32 Community Connections summer camps. It was easy to piggyback on their existing lunch program. Next year we hope Chef Justin Turcotte of Good Taste Catering and FEAST may take over preparing the lunches. The day I visited, the children were savoring baked chicken, homemade mashed potatoes, a selection of carrots, celery, cauliflower and cucumber with dip, oranges, apples and peanut butter and beverages. Although the food is for the children, each day the children learned to make simple recipes that they would then offer to their parents to sample. I saw friends sitting together, children drawing with chalk and families sharing stories.
Some of the special activities that took place included: on opening day a local senior Nana Banana, who is also a clown, entertained the kids and Hunger Mountain Coop gave out free samples; Tom Sabo brought high school students from the Time of Need Garden Project to make vegetable filled tortillas with the kids; later in the summer groups of children went to the co-op where they had a scavenger hunt (how many orange fruit?) and before leaving they got to choose one fruit or vegetable to take back and taste (there were kohlrabi and mango to titillate the taste buds); and the children’s librarian from the Kellogg Hubbard Library came several times to read stories and offered free books. Throughout the summer, children had the opportunity to learn how to make a recipe: salsa, pesto, beet and carrot latkes and more. One day when it rained the children went inside and danced to the music of the Montpelier Senior Band. On Tuesdays the students from the Summer English Language Learners Camp at Union Elementary would attend the lunch, giving them an opportunity to talk about food and socialize.
Kristen Andrews, executive director of Just Basics wrote and was awarded grants from the Department of Labor and National Life which made it possible to hire five local high school/college students to help with the lunches. Additional funds from the Rotary Club of Montpelier helped purchase local fruits and vegetables to supplement the federal stipend of $3.50 per child. A tent, serving dishes and ecological reusable tableware were also funded. United Way awarded a grant which resulted in the purchase of a blender and a hot plate for use in food prep and serving. You can follow the program on Facebook at Free Summer Lunches for Kids. For information on how you can volunteer or make a donation to Summer Food for Kids for Summer 2016 please contact Kristen at Just Basics262-6288 or by email KristenatJustBasicsInc@gmail.com.
Elizabeth Parker is a writer who is passionate about local food systems and savoring the exceptional food those systems produce.