VERMONT -- This summer, kids at Barre's Aldrich Library are getting the royal treatment. The season's programming theme is "Realms of Reading," and it includes such fairy-tale fare as crafting dragons or ogres, storytellers Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder, films, a magician and a medieval fair. And, of course, actual books.
But in Barre, as around the entire state, most kids don't live like princes and princesses at all -- some of them don't even have enough to eat. And that's why the Aldrich was Vermont's first public library to throw in lunch with the literature. Barre City Schools and the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger (VTCECH) will oversee feeding 650 to 800 children at Aldrich over the course of the summer. The library tends to attract elementary- and middle-school-aged kids, but children's librarian Adrianne Scucces says the lunches are available to "little kids -- if they can chew food -- to 18." She "inherited" the food program from her predecessor, Scucces says.
Barre has been a "sponsor" of a summer food program since 1993, and has upped the number of places where lunch is served -- the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, among other venues, are hosting minor diners as well. That's because far more kids receive subsidized lunches during the school year than have been fed June through August, points out Chris Dorer, summer food outreach coordinator for VTCECH. Statewide, the program "serves about 5000 kids every summer," she says. "But on the other hand, there are about 25,000 to 30,000 who use a free or reduced lunch program during the school year."
Though Vermont is "one of the states that's had the largest growth in summer programs," notes Dorer, there are still potentially thousands of malnourished children returning to school every fall. Research indicates that these children often fall behind in their schoolwork and have more chronic health problems. The 150 free-lunch sites around the state are simply not enough. Unfortunately, it's not easy finding hosts, Dorer concedes, in part because of the paperwork involved in being part of a federally funded program -- the money is funneled through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered through the child nutrition program in Vermont's education department.
"One thing I've been stressing lately is for schools to participate in the 'seamless' summer food option," Dorer says. Since schools already serve free or discounted lunches to students, she explains, they do not have to re-apply to continue the program in the summer. "In towns like Barre and Winooski, where more than half the population is eligible, it makes sense for communities to sponsor programs like that."
Organizations that would like to sponsor a summer food program are encouraged to apply -- check www.vtnohunger.org  for more information. Meanwhile, Dorer hopes more Vermont families will learn that there is such a thing as a free lunch.