By Kate Barcellos
After five months of searching, Hunger Free Vermont has a new executive director.
And she’d been with them all along.
“When I hear from a food-service director that kids are crying on the last day of school because they know they won’t have regular meals, it gets me,” said Anore Horton, executive director.
“I never want to hear that story again … we’re going to silence that story once and for all.”
In January, the 16-member board of directors approached Horton, then their nutrition initiatives director, to serve as acting director while they conducted a nationwide search. They invited Horton, now in her seventh year with Hunger Free Vermont, to submit her own application for the permanent position.
On June 21, out of all the applicants who applied from coast to coast, it was Horton who was chosen.
“I was humbled and honored that after they interviewed many other applicants, that they selected me to lead this amazing organization,” Horton said in an interview last Thursday.
Horton was originally hired almost a decade ago to serve as manager of child nutrition initiatives, before she became the nutrition initiatives director, teaching organizations that help low-income Vermonters how to use federal nutrition assistance programs like 3SquaresVT, Meals on Wheels and WIC.
“We provide training and customized technical assistance to all of those organizations who use those programs correctly and make sure they are getting the broadest possible participation and access,” Horton said. “That’s one of the core things Hunger Free Vermont does.”
As executive director, Horton said she plans to continue working diligently with state government, and helping organizations find ways to provide as much assistance as they can for families struggling with food insecurity.
“We’re the only organization in the state that does what we do,” she said. “We’ve decreased child hunger by 37 percent in the last five years.”
This is largely due to the work Hunger Free Vermont has done to ensure 67 schools throughout the state can provide their students with free meals during their school day, so they can concentrate on their work and not worry about their reputations.
“Fourteen thousand kids now have access to two to three meals a day, depending on the school,” Horton said. “The road to dignity for children is through universal meal programs.”
Moving forward, in addition to expanding reach to other organizations, growing the team, and continuing the fight to provide more schools with universal meals programs, another demographic is in serious need of help from Hunger Free Vermont.
“Older Vermonters, 55 and up, are the only segment where hunger and malnutrition is increasing instead of decreasing,” Horton said. “We’re helping to bring together a statewide coalition to look at this.”
Horton said they’re also working with the early-childhood learning community to make child care with high-quality meals more affordable, providing more nutrition education programs for people committed to eating healthfully, and working with the business community to combat hunger in the workplace.
“Hungry and malnourished people can’t contribute to their full potential,” Horton said. “Just like hungry kids can’t concentrate and learn.”
Before coming to Hunger Free Vermont, Horton didn’t have a background in food, hunger or nutrition, though she understood hunger as a social-justice issue.
“I certainly had a lot to learn,” she said. “The more I’ve learned about hunger and engaged in work to help end hunger, the more clear I’ve become about how foundational nutrition is for addressing all of the other issues that we’re concerned about in Vermonters.”
Hunger affects all socioeconomic facets, from the achievement gap in schools to workforce development, Horton said.
“Hunger is the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “When families start restricting their food budgets, that tells us that family is in economic distress in all areas.”
Hunger Free Vermont’s board chairman Darren Allen welcomed Horton to her new position, saying she has demonstrated a passion for addressing hunger insecurity in her past years, and he is confident in her abilities in her new role.
“Already in her tenure, she has envisioned several ways to make the organization stronger and even more effective in its fierce dedication to ending the injustice of hunger and food insecurity in Vermont,” Allen said in a statement.
Food is necessary for the body to think, move, work and play. “No child is going to be crying on the last day of school because they’re hungry,” Horton said. “We don’t have to be a society that tolerates that.”