With spring now on the calendar, Vermonters are moving eagerly into that transition to green, and our short growing season. Winter’s challenges here are well-documented: Cold months put demands on finances, sometimes forcing families to choose between food and heat. That strain often shifts to state and local agencies to find answers, resources and assistance.
While it is easy to convince ourselves that once spring has sprung many of these problems simply melt away with warmer tempreatures, it is wholly untrue. The needs are still there, especially when it comes to hunger in Vermont.
Our state has a population of just over 625,000, and about 85,000 Vermonters, or 13 percent of all households, are “food insecure.” That means they “lack the access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources,” according to Hunger Free Vermont. In fact, adults in households determined to be food insecure are so limited in resources that they are running out of food, reducing the quality of food their family eats, feeding their children unbalanced diets, or they are skipping meals altogether in order to feed their children.
In Vermont? Yes.
At any given time, 22 percent of our state’s children live in “food insecure” homes, and 5 percent of Vermont senior citizens, or as many as 6,600 find themselves in that same category.
According to Hunger Free Vermont, about 30,000 Vermonters struggle with hunger, or 5 percent of our state’s population. That includes just over 6,000 school-age children and 3,200 seniors.
In 2012, Vermont’s Agencies on Aging reported that across the five regions that provide delivered meals to Vermonters, 364,000 people took part in congregated meals, public or semi-public meals, and 707,000 meals were delivered statewide.
That’s a lot of Vermonters struggling.
And we know hunger is taking its toll. The effects are easy to measure, medically and educationally: poor diets, nutrient deficiencies, obesity, developmental delays and poor academic performance, just to name a few.
Across the state, agencies, groups, churches and government are reaching out to keep those numbers from growing. But it has been tough.
Services like 3SquaresVT (formerly called food stamps) are reducing food insecurity statewide and improving diets, mostly among children. Participation in 3SquaresVt and WIC is decreasing risk of poor health, anemia and malnutrition. Participation also has shown a marked decrease in child abuse, obesity in school-age girls, and higher achievement in math and reading among school children.
It has the potential to be worse for our rural state, where getting people to meals and getting meals to people, especially in winter and spring, can be a challenge.
In the weeks leading up to the March 1 sequestration, and the federal budget cuts, advocates at the local, state and federal levels expressed the fear that the fiscal crisis would make matters much worse, potentially hurting the vulnerable and shifting burdens to states and municipalities that are cash-strapped and still digging out from the recession.
If those cuts go into effect, the result could be catastrophic for Vermont. It could mean more than 1,000 mothers and children losing WIC aid; hundreds of rental vouchers lost for low-income families; the loss of more than $1 million to Head Start, and more.
With so many Vermonters still hungry, it is our obligation to speak out to keep these programs intact, and continue to contribute to and finance the services and groups that are reaching out to families across Vermont who remain in need.
As the growing season begins, we must plant the seeds now that move us toward eliminating hunger in Vermont.
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