By Aaron Retherford
Just Basics, Inc. has been successful in providing meals to seniors and others in need throughout the Montpelier area as the parent organization of Feast and the Montpelier Food Pantry.
Now, Just Basics is teaming up with Community Connections and the Montpelier Senior Activity Center to make sure another vulnerable group doesn’t go hungry this summer – children.
Just Basics will run a Summer Meals Program for anyone 18 years and younger, Monday-Friday from July 6 to Aug. 14. Lunches are served from noon-1 p.m. and any child in Montpelier or surrounding towns is welcome to enjoy a free lunch.
Because the free lunch program is not based on need, Just Basics Executive Director Kristen Andrews hopes that more children will be willing to come out for a free lunch.
“The understanding is when you make it available to everybody regardless of their income, more kids are likely to take it,” Andrews said. “If you’re distinguishing kids by saying ‘you’re family doesn’t have a lot of money, so we’re going to give you a free lunch,’ they’re more likely to turn it down.”
Andrews said several schools have mentioned there are many children who need free lunch in the summer and are willing to take it. However, the program incorporates more than just free lunch. Children can participate in nutrition and gardening activities run by local high school students and seniors. Just Basics plans on using the sidewalk in front of the senior center as well as the playground behind it for activities that will hopefully draw more kids to the lunches.
“You have to make it a place that kids want to come,” Andrews said. “But also, if you want to combat hunger, you have to do more than hand out food. You have to teach kids what foods are healthy and give them opportunities to try new foods they haven’t tried before, so they can establish healthy eating habits now.”
Grants from National Life Group and the Montpelier Rotary Club have proved beneficial in increasing the opportunities for children to experience healthy foods.
“The federal subsidy pays $3.50 per meal, so we could do this program without the grant,” Andrews said. “But what the grant has given us is the opportunity to hire some local high school students and a couple college students to come help prepare the meals and run the educational programs and interact with the children while they’re here. It turns it into more of a community effort.”
The grant from the Rotary Club will supplement the meals with interesting vegetable salads or whole grain salads. Each day, there will be a different appetizer of the day that kids can get involved in and will incorporate whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Montpelier Senior Activity Center will be hosting the lunches at 58 Barre St. and representatives from MSAC are eager to help younger members of the community.
“As a department of the City of Montpelier dedicated to creating opportunities that support good health, nutrition, lifelong learning, and interactions between seniors and youth, we are pleased to be in a position to host the summer lunch program this summer,” MSAC Director Janna Clar said. “Just Basics Inc. has administered Feast, a successful senior nutrition program here for the past two years, so I’m confident that good things are ahead with this new endeavor and look forward to helping welcome youth to 58 Barre Street this summer!”