Vermont & New England Dairy Farmers Support VT Schools During COVID-19 Pandemic Meal Relief

Author: Rene Thibault

Waitsfield, VT As school districts across the New England region worked around-the-clock to feed their students with either grab-n-go or home delivered meals, local dairy farmers stepped up to support those efforts.  New England dairy farmers, along with other generous partners, have provided school meal programs nearly $255 thousand in total grants and equipment to date.  Dairy farm families have made possible the purchase of roughly 1,670 cooler bags for schools across the region to date.  That equipment continues to aid schools now during summer feeding programs and will support meal efforts for years to come.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, 124,000 US schools closed in-classroom learning, yet 95% engaged in emergency assistance to continue providing meals to students outside of school.  One in six kids lived in food insecurity leading into the pandemic.  Now, that statistic is expected to be closer to one in four* according to GENYOUth.

New England Dairy program experts worked with school nutrition staff to identify needs in the school’s COVID-19 response plans.  Some of the challenges identified at the school level included the lack of available cold storage and easy transport options for meals.  Local dairy farmers answered that call with the funding of cooler bags for 86 different school districts in New England, so far.

In Vermont, dairy farm families have funded the purchase and distribution of 439 cooler bags to 19 different school districts supporting over 32,000 students including those of the Harwood Unified Union School District.  “The cooler bags have been a crucial part of our operation from the first day that we received them,” explained Erika Dolan, School Food & Nutrition Co-Director for the district.  “We could not be serving meals safely without them.  We are very thankful for the generosity of New England dairy farmers.”

This work was bolstered by an additional $50,000 in funding that was reallocated by the Vermont Dairy Promotion Council to help in the school support effort.  The Promotion Council is a group made up of state dairy farmers representing different dairy cooperative as well as independent processors.  These grant dollars supported 21 additional school districts in Vermont and the money was used to fund cold storage equipment, cooler transportation carts, electric coolers and more.

Thousands of school nutrition staffers continue to work tirelessly on the front-lines to keep students and children fed at this critical time.  For some students, the meals they receive at school are the only nutritious food options they get during the day.  And in some cases, this is the only food they have access to period.

“The COVID-19 Pandemic has put tremendous pressure on schools throughout the region.  It’s been uplifting to see the community spirit and support local schools have provided to their students and families,” explained Jill Hussels, School Nutrition Specialist.  New England Dairy and the dairy farmers of the Northeast are proud to support these efforts and to be a medium through which the farm to school connection can be made.”

“I would like to thank all the personnel in the school food service arena for your extremely valiant efforts in providing nutritious, well-balanced meals for children during this pandemic event,” stated dairy farmer Paul Doton of Doton Farm.

Nearly 18,000 Vermont students live in food insecure households**.  Dairy can play a critical role in addressing these nutritional needs.  Milk provides a unique package of 9 essential nutrients including calcium, potassium and Vitamin D – a nutritional powerhouse for families and students.

Schools and nutrition staff, as well as parents and families can find more milk and dairy resources online.

About New England Dairy

New England Dairy’s mission is to champion the region’s farm families and the nutritious foods they produce.  The non-profit organization does this by sharing the New England dairy story, connecting people to dairy farms, supporting youth wellness in schools and delivering the latest nutrition and sustainability science to health professionals, scientists, media, nutrition professionals and educators.

About GENYouth

GENYOUth specializes in a range of national initiatives including the largest in-school wellness program (Fuel Up to Play 60) in partnership with National Dairy Council and the NFL; an innovative youth social entrepreneurship program (AdVenture Capital); youth and thought-leader engagement (Leadership Roundtables, Student Ambassador Summit, Town Halls); and widely circulated stakeholder-targeted publications.

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