SVSU free meals program enters second year


BENNINGTON >> For the second year, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union will provide free breakfast and lunch to their students.

Last year, the school served over 650,000 meals through the Community Eligibility Provision for Free Meal Reimbursement (CEP). Through CEP, a school district, a group of schools or a single school may offer meals at no charge to all students. The SVSU qualifies for the program because 50.15 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

"We are excited to continue the program that enables students to get a complete, nutritious and reimbursable breakfast and lunch, regardless of family income, for free," said Maureen O'Neil, Southern Vermont Food Service Director from the Abbey Group, the organization that provides meals to the SVSU, "All children deserve an equal opportunity to eat and this program allows us to do that,"

"We kicked off the program last year and enjoyed multiple successes throughout all our schools," said Renee Gordon, the SVSU's new director of finance and operations, "The money saved by families who would have otherwise paid for these meals has the potential to be reinvested into our community. We are delighted to provide this stimulus again this year."

The CEP came out of the federal Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. To qualify, a district or school must have 40 percent or more of its students eligible. The SVSU first investigated participating in the program in 2014, when some districts were declared eligible, but then-business manager Rick Pembroke held off, as it wasn't clear that all districts would be able to participate, which raised concerns about equity. After those concerns were addressed, and the SU was allowed to enter into the program as a unit, the schools began participating in the program last year.

"Finally, the math makes sense," said Pembroke last year, "The entire SVSU community benefits from our participation in CEP. All families qualify for free meals. A family of four who paid for breakfast and lunch last year can experience a savings of $1,200 this year. That is money families can use to relieve pressure off their personal finances or increase their purchasing power in our local economy. It truly is a win-win for everyone."

"When the SVSU offers free meals to all students it helps eliminate unwanted prejudice in our school communities. More students are eating both breakfast and lunch. The benefits are directly experienced in the classroom," said SVSU Superintendent Jim Culkeen, "The continuation of the CEP program is another example of how the SVSU strives for excellence."

Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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