By Colin Ryan
Fourth-grade teacher Dave Bouchard believes his students understand the importance of helping less fortunate individuals.
That’s why he encouraged Lighthouse at Williston Central School to participate in the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger’s 11th annual Hike for Hunger on Friday, Oct. 5.
“I wanted to do this because it’s healthy for the kids, and in support of a real need. We joked about not giving the kids snacks today, to really get the message home,” Bouchard said with a grin at the hike. “But the truth is, these kids get it. Many of them know individuals in need, and they have been very good about getting pledges from their families.”
At 9 a.m. on Friday, buses dropped off 75 first-grade through fourth-grade students from Lighthouse at the Catamount Family Center. By hiking, Williston Central joined forces with more than 50 other Vermont schools participating in the event.
Many of the students had collected $25 in pledges from parents and friends in exchange for going on the hike. They raised a total of $1,000 for the event.
“It’s not just a hike,” said fourth-grader Eli Hark. “How much money you collect for this is how much you help people. I’m glad I did this.”
Some of the children hiked for personal reasons as well.
“One person I met didn’t have much food, and they didn’t have much clothes. I’m walking today to help them,” said fourth-grader Kimberly Murray.
The children hiked for over an hour, scampering along happily, running up hills, chattering and pointing at everything in sight. As they neared the end, they were a little quieter, a little more worn out. But they were proud of what they had done.
“The point is to get tired,” said fourth grader William Yakubik. “It’s healthy for us, and we raise money for people who don’t have enough food.”
He raised both his arms in a victory pose, and shouted, “Hike for Hunger rules!”
The Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger is a nonprofit organization that combats hunger statewide through advocacy, education and technical assistance.
“There are anywhere between 19,000 and 20,000 children in Vermont who are considered ‘hungry,” said Eve Frankel, the campaign’s Community Relations Officer.
Added the campaign’s program director, Joanne Heidkamp, “Hungry’ refers to any household that, due to lack of money, can’t consistently provide its members with enough nutritious food in order to live a healthy life. When the unexpected car repair or the leaky roof just empties the budget, and you’ve simply got to have a roof over your head, food becomes a flexible item. A typical food shelf might be able to give a family a three-day supply. For kids to know consistently where their next meal is coming from, the school meal program we work to establish is essential.”
Heidkamp said only 50,000 of the 90,000 Vermonters who qualify for food stamps are enrolled in the program.
“So you can see that raising awareness is a major part of our work here. Food drives alone will not beat hunger,” Heidkamp said. “To really address hunger, it takes a comprehensive safety net of programs. School meals are critical, childhood nutrition programs as well. We also have a daycare meal program, but Vermont ranks 49th in the nation in its use of this program.”
Information on VTCECH, hunger in Vermont, and federal nutrition programs is available at www.vtnohunger.org. For information about the Food Stamp Program — including eligibility guidelines and a printable application — visit www.vermontfoodhelp.com.