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Letter: Childhood Hunger in Vermont

To the Editor:

It is easy to forget that many young children in Vermont are hungry. Roughly one in five Vermont children live in households that are running out or close to running out of food. Parents are forced to make difficult decisions — feed their children or pay for other necessities. Without adequate nutrition during the critical early years, a child’s brain can fail to develop fully, making the child prone to malnutrition, obesity, poor health, poor academic achievement and developmental delays.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program targets childhood hunger by providing nutrition to children in child care who might otherwise go hungry. The food program reimburses child-care centers and family child-care homes for providing nutritious meals and snacks. In addition to bringing millions of federal dollars to Vermont (over $4 million in 2011), the program ensures a source of funding for child-care providers, access to nutritious meals for children and help with a tight food budget for families.

With most young children spending time in child care, providing high-quality meals through the Child and Adult Care Food Program is a simple and effective way to prevent the damage caused by childhood hunger. However, despite the significant benefits of the program, participation remains low statewide. Due to cumbersome paperwork and administrative barriers, only 22 percent of Vermont child-care centers are enrolled — the second-lowest participation rate in the country.

We can do more to address childhood hunger in Vermont. The Hartford Regional Building Bright Futures Council, representing northern Windsor and Orange counties, encourages everyone to contact their local legislators to inform them of the importance and underutilization of the Child and Adult Care Food Program and to ask them to support efforts to identify and remove barriers to participation. Though invisible, childhood hunger is alive and real in our state. Please lend your voice.

Mary Nyhan

Coordinator, Hartford Regional Building Bright Futures Council

Norwich