School may be out for summer, but lunch is still served: At nine locations around Rutland City, anyone between the ages of 5 and 18 is eligible for a free meal.
“We’re starting off with about 100 meals, and the more children (who) come the more will be distributed,” said Barry Meehan, founder and president of Gabriel’s Children, an organization partnering with Rutland City Public Schools and BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont to provide the food.
In the inaugural three days of the “Bridging the Gap Summer Meals” event, 106 meals were served throughout Rutland County, with Rutland Free Library receiving a backup supply to keep up with demand Tuesday, said Randal Smathers, library director.
“They’re mostly grade-school kids who would otherwise be over at Rutland Middle School and Rutland Intermediate,” said BROC Community Action in Southwestern Vermont CEO Tom Donahue. “It’s amazing how many kids are here at 10 (when it opens).”
The initiative started as a collaboration between BROC and local organization Gabriel’s Children, which provided homemade soups to homeless populations living in hotels this past winter.
“We made 5,000 bowls of soup for the people in the hotels,” said Barry Meehan, founder and president of Gabriel’s Children.
Meg Hanna, Community Food Shelf coordinator for BROC, worried about where students would find their food now that school was closed, so organizers isolated four locations around the city where anyone age 5 to 18 could go and get a sandwich, some fruit and milk, or, on Fridays, pizza.
But the collaboration would never have taken shape had Rutland City Public Schools not stepped in, Donahue said. Superintendent Adam Taylor used USDA grant reimbursement to provide the meals, which would be created in the kitchen at Rutland High School, so the burden didn’t fall on Rutland taxpayers.
Taylor did one better: Every school cafeteria in Rutland County will be open for the summer, giving children an additional five places to find free breakfast beginning at 8 a.m. in White Memorial Park, at Rutland Northeast Elementary School and Rutland Northwest Elementary School, and starting at 8:30 at Rutland Intermediate and Middle School, and Rutland High School.
Daily breakfast specials will include cinnamon rolls, bagels with cream cheese, cereals and fresh muffins, according to a flier from BROC.
Lunch is served at all of the schools beginning at 11:30 a.m., White Memorial Park starting at noon, BROC at 10 a.m., Rutland Free Library and by Trinity Church in Baxter Street Park at 11 a.m., and at the United Methodist Church on Strongs Avenue beginning at 12:30 p.m., Meehan said.
Daily specials for lunch will include ham, salami and mozzarella sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly, chicken clubs and chicken Caesar salad wraps, each with fruit and milk, and occasionally Sun Chips, according to an online menu. The school locations and community sites will be open every weekday until school resumes except for a few specific dates when the community sites will each be closed, the online flier said.
Students can snack and read at the library, or at BROC, the children will find a child-friendly room with balloons, cartoons and games, where the kids — who often come with their parents or grandparents — can find a fresh meal.
“It becomes neighborhood oriented,” Donahue said. “It’s convenient, walkable and realistic, and the child doesn’t have to walk across town. Kids can eat in their own neighborhoods. ... If it were more difficult or cumbersome, I don’t think it would work out.”
Though Taylor could not be reached for comment, Donahue credited him with the success of the program for meeting the demand of Rutland City school children.
“This is right in line with his philosophy,” Donahue said. “Adam’s concern this winter (was) for kids who, during snow days, out of concern for kids who didn’t have anything to eat.”
The program is currently looking for volunteers to drive, volunteer at a site and to lead the site, Donahue said.