February 18, 2013

Schools, donors have no vacations from keeping their charges well-fed

BY RACHEL OHM Staff Writer

HARTLAND -- On a typical school day at Hartland Consolidated School, elementary-level students eat two of their three daily meals and an afternoon fruit snack.

Free breakfast is served to everyone and varies day to day. Offerings include cereal, toast, muffins, milk, apples and oranges.

Lunch might be black beans and rice, and in the afternoon students get a fruit snack of melon, apple or kiwi, which the school is able to provide through a grant from the state.

When school is not in session, though, it may be hard for students to get the same nutrition, principal Denise Kimball said.

"I think for a lot of families, it's a struggle. Fresh fruit is expensive, especially during the winter, and I don't think children have the same opportunities to have those fruits when school is not in session," she said.

During the weeklong February vacation, which starts today, a local apple orchard and an area health clinic are working with the Hartland school to send fruit, vegetables and other healthy food home. Meanwhile, other area schools are working on similar programs to address not only poverty rates, but the importance of eating healthfully across income levels.

Statewide, 46 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch, according to the Department of Education. At the Hartland school, that number is around 80 percent, said Kimball.

"Having kids home for a week can be a challenge to some familiy's budgets. Yet over vacation time, kids still need to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner," said Trudy Richmond, director of clinical operations at Sebasticook Family Doctors in Newport.

Last spring, Richmond and others at the federally funded health clinic started researching ways for children to get access to healthy food when school is not in session. She said a number of area schools have developed what many call "snack pack" programs, which send children home with snacks over the weekend, school vacations or summer break.

With the help of Cynthia Currier, a behavioral health assistant at the clinic, Richmond approached Newport-based Regional School Unit 19 about starting their own snack-pack program at the Hartland school.

"I thought it was a great idea. I haven't really heard a lot back yet, but I know there was a lot of excitement from families," said Dave Leighton, Director of Child Nutrition for the school district.

The clinic, along with business donors from nearby communities, collected enough food to put together two shopping bags worth of groceries for every kindergarten and first-grade student, about 62 students.

"There is food for every meal -- so cereal, peanut butter and jelly, soup, bread, crackers and rice," Richmond said.

Apple orchard expands the idea

A local apple orchard that agreed to donate 3-pound bags of apples for every student liked the idea so much that it decided to donate apples to another school as well.

On Friday, North Star Orchards in Madison delivered 840 pounds of Red Delicious apples to Madison Elementary School.

"It's really just about promoting healthy eating," said Judy Dimock, who owns and helps run the orchard along with her husband and their two children. "Cynthia approached me with the idea, and it sounded great. Madison is our local school district, so I figured why not support them as well and send the kids home with a treat for February break."

The Madison-based school district, which also recently received a federal award recognizing its school nutrition program, has been a consistent supporter of buying locally grown apples from the orchard, Dimock said.

Principal Scott Mitchell said the fruit was a wonderful treat for the 275 children at Madison Elementary School, who got to take them home. Three-quarters of the students at that school qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to the Department of Education.

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