August 28, 2019 – NEWPORT, VT
Between June 19th and August 15th, the Lunchbox food truck, a free summer meal site, served 3,219 free meals to kids and teens and sold 583 adult meals to community members in Barton, Derby, and Newport, Vermont. The number of meals served represents a 76% increase in free meals for kids and teens and a 17% increase in adult meals sold when compared to program totals last summer.
The Lunchbox is operated in partnership by Green Mountain Farm-to-School (GMFTS) and the Abbey Group, a food service management company, and aims to provide the community with healthy, locally-sourced meals throughout the summer months; children and teens 18 and under eat for free and adults are offered affordable meals for purchase.
The spike in the number of meals served this summer is largely due to an additional meal site added at the North Country Union Junior High School in Derby. Monday through Friday from July 8th to August 2nd, foodservice professionals from the Abbey Group staffed the Lunchbox from 5 pm to 7 pm in addition to lunch services on Wednesdays and Thursdays in Barton and Newport. The additional supper service drew hungry youth participating in a nearby soccer camp along with families looking for a healthy, affordable alternative for weeknight meals.
“It’s been such a blessing having the Lunchbox at the Junior High during summer soccer!’ remarked one patron, “There’s a great menu selection, healthy choices and best of all, it’s free for kids!”
Tarin Pratte, a Newport resident, shared, “The Lunchbox is a great resource for healthy meal choices for youth and adults in our community. The time and location greatly impacted many during the summer season. Many parents took advantage of the Lunchbox meals prior, during and after soccer games, not only for their little players but siblings not participating in the sport, allowing them to have a meal during their hungry meal time. We also visited the Lunchbox at Gardner Park, transitioning from summer camps and busy summer traveling, it was a perfect central location and a great picnic area to enjoy a lunch with my children. I saw many seniors purchase a meal, including my grandparents.”
In addition to new supper service options, GMFTS piloted a free vegetable ‘Market Basket’ program. Three times in the summer of 2019, GMFTS staff brought surplus produce grown at local school gardens to the Lunchbox to give away to community members. Accompanying the vegetables were recipe cards with ideas on how to prepare the vegetables that were available.
Each time, all the free produce was claimed by community members, demonstrating a clear demand for fresh produce. In households with tight food budgets, fresh, locally-grown produce is often out of reach. This vegetable giveaway program aimed to ease the strain on food budgets and make healthy food more available to families.
“The Lunchbox meets so many needs in our community,” says Amrita Parry, Food Hub Accounts Manager and Outreach Coordinator at GMFTS, “It provides fresh, nutritious meals to all youth whether they qualify for free or reduced school lunches or not. This helps break down the stigma around hunger.”
An emphasis on locally sourced ingredients is part of what differentiates the Lunchbox from other summer meal sites in the state and is part of GMFTS’s multi-pronged approach to strengthening local food systems in Vermont. Many of the ingredients used in Lunchbox meals are procured through Green Mountain Farm Direct, a mission-driven food hub operated by GMFTS that aggregates and distributes food from over 33 local farmers and producers to schools, retailers, and institutions throughout Northern Vermont. Menu items included Brault’s beef burgers served on whole-grain buns, chef salads featuring local greens and vegetables, and Kingdom Creamery Yogurt parfaits with whole-grain granola.
“The success of the program this summer demonstrates the value of this resource for our community,” says Catherine Cusack, Executive Director at GMFTS, “the program is so much more than a free summer meal site,” she says, “because the Lunchbox team is committed to purchasing food locally and emphasizes local food producers, the program helps connect young people to the region’s rich agricultural traditions and works to boost regional farm viability.”
This is the second year in a row the Lunchbox has experienced a significant increase in the number of meals served. In 2018, the program served over 1,800 free meals, an 18% increase over the previous summer.