Janet S. Munt Family Room: Nourishing Families

2020 Update:

When we applied for funding for our food and garden programming in 2019, we had no idea how much would change in 2020 and how important it would be to our ability to serve our Family Room families. Throughout the fall of 2019 we ran programming as usual, including serving meals family style to everyone who attended playgroups and classes. We began to build in an educational component that linked the food we were serving to the cultures it came from and, when possible, bring in the farmers who grew it. We increased our budget to purchase food from local farmers and were able to plan our menus around seasonal produce. We had big plans for our summer gardening program and were excited about holding more workshops at the garden with the VT Community Garden Network.

Then, along with the rest of the country, we had to completely regroup in March. When shutdowns first began, our facility may have closed but our programming did not. We immediately contacted our families and began delivering food, diapers, and supplies to 120 households weekly. We switched from in-person playgroups to live-streamed videos. We supported caregivers one on one by phone and online instead of in our offices. We transformed to provide what was most needed: crisis support. Because we were now delivering meals and culturally appropriate pantry staples to individual families instead of cooking meals to serve communally, we went from spending less than $1000 a month on food to spending over $14,000 from March through June alone.

As the weather began to warm, though, our summer garden space at Ethan Allen Homestead became a haven for all of us. It was the only place we could safely have Family Room families together. The City Market funding to purchase additional wheelbarrows and garden tools became especially helpful as sharing tools between families posed a health risk. With food insecurity hitting families hard, it was so important to preserve the space where they were able to grow their own food, while opening up extra plots to volunteers who grew produce that was shared with families. This is about more than just food. Since many of our families come from countries other than the US, it can be difficult for them to access ingredients and produce from their cultures. Growing the produce they actually want at the garden fills that need. Through September it served as the hub of community, connection, and nutrition for our organization. It may not have been the season we planned for, but we are so grateful that we were able to be there together, and that was due in part to this Seedlings grant.

Grant Amount: $5,000

The Janet S. Munt Family Room Family was founded in 1988 as a program of the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) and in 2017, in the midst of looming staff cuts, current and former Family Room families engaged in an extensive strategic planning process and successful fundraising effort, and the Janet S. Munt Family Room became its own independent nonprofit that retained most staff and minimized the disruption to families. In the last two years we have built a dedicated board, hired a full-time executive director, and retained six program staff members, a Parent Advisory Group, and a team of volunteers. We remain one of fifteen designated Parent Child Centers in the state. Our mission is to support connection for parents and families, provide education, promote physical, social, emotional, and linguistic development in children, and nurture a vibrant and diverse community, and we accomplish this with drop-in and enrolled programming, case management, and home visiting - all of which is free to participants.

We are seeking funding for our “Nourishing Families” project that would extend our food programming in three ways: harvest, preservation, and distribution. The harvesting and preservation take place at our garden. From June - September, our Family Play program that takes place at our 20 Allen Street location for the school year moves to our community garden at Ethan Allen Homestead. While there, in addition to the parenting education and developmentally appropriate play Family Play offers year-round, families learn to grow their own food, and with this funding we would expand to include workshops by the VT Community Garden Network on harvesting and preserving produce grown through canning, fermentation, and other traditional methods.  Distribution takes place at the Family Room. While we currently offer snacks and meals with all programming, with this funding we would purchase a refrigerator with a clear glass door where perishable produce from the gardens, as well as food that has been donated and meals prepared by the Family Room staff and volunteers, can be easily perused while safely kept at appropriate temperatures and placed in a central location for families to take home year-round.

The goal of Nourishing Families is simple: to get more local nutritious food into the hands and homes of our Family Room families. We already incorporate food as much as possible into our programs through family style meals and served over 10,000 lbs of produce during the 2017-2018 school year, but we recognize that we are only meeting a small portion of the need many of our families experience and hope to grow our resources.