Special Blog Post by: Marc Baker, Grants Manager
Although Second Harvest has had a long tradition of working with schools, it has often been on a logistical level: do you have a parking lot we could use to distribute food once a month? Now, we are looking at schools and school districts as true partners in our work.
Schools, after all, have trusted relationships with students and their families and know what their needs are; have established communication channels with them; know what community resources already exist; have large facilities that can accommodate the size of their student population; and are typically geographically convenient for families when their children’s school is in their neighborhood.
In partnership with schools and districts, we are developing tailored programs to meet the unique food assistance needs of their populations. Our “tailored school solutions program” meets the needs of hungry children and families by providing them with nutritious food to take home when other resources, such as free or reduced-price school meals, are not available.
Our school pantry sites are selected based a number of criteria, including:
- High poverty rates (>75% student enrollment in the free and reduced-price meal program)
- Lack of food resources within the neighborhood
- The school’s commitment to hosting the program at their site
Our ability to recruit volunteers and nonprofit partners to assist in the implementation of the programs at each school site
Each school program is responsive to the food needs of local families and typically includes fresh produce, lean meats, eggs, dairy, grains, beans and an assortment of canned and frozen items.
In addition to the distribution of free food at school sites, our school food assistance programs incorporate nutrition education and CalFresh (food stamp) related activities to promote health and encourage nutritious eating, including:
- Nutrition education for children and their families
- Recipe tip cards in multiple languages
- Cooking demonstrations and food tastings to help families make the best use of the food they receive from us
- CalFresh education, outreach and application assistance at school sites to connect families with additional resources to alleviate food insecurity
At certain school campuses, our food assistance programs are provided in conjunction with other school-based community intervention services such as financial planning, tutoring, and parent coaching tailored to address the families’ needs and achieve positive outcomes in their lives.
Today, we are serving more than 16,700 low-income kids and families each month through our tailored school solutions program, distributing the equivalent of two million meals (over 2.4 million pounds of healthy food) annually to narrow the meal gap in our community.
*** 1 in 3 kids in our community may not be getting enough to eat every day. Stand up for kids and get involved .
Special Blog Post by: Jessica Washburn, Writer and Food Educator
Over the past decade, I have taught kids of all ages cooking and witnessed repeatedly how students fall in love with simple, nourishing food when they make it themselves. If their hands have washed lettuce, chopped cucumbers and whisked a salad dressing, then they might not only clean their plate of leafy greens, but also demand seconds. Yet my time with students is often short, sometimes not even a semester. When a session concludes, I wonder whether any students continue cooking the recipes we made together, or at least, continue to eat the newfound vegetables they enjoyed during class. In other words, what’s the lasting impact?
This question becomes more complicated when I think of the many students I have worked with in the Bay Area who qualify for free and reduced lunch and are considered food insecure. If access to food is uncertain, then the fundamental relationship between food and nourishment becomes tenuous, even traumatic, and the ideals of cooking healthfully become secondary to more immediate concerns, namely, having adequate amounts of food regardless of nutritional content.
When I approached Second Harvest about collaborating on a new class, I was influenced by the disparity of wealth and need found in Silicon Valley. Driving on the broad boulevard on my way to the Second Harvest site, I thought of the abundance in the area – of talent, resources and food – and the simultaneous scarcity: 1 out of every 3 local children in the region are affected by hunger. I envisioned a class where underserved students in the area could explore food, but this time, through creative writing.
Partnering with Second Harvest, we identified an afterschool program in Redwood City at the Police Activities League, where 5th and 6th graders could easily participate. I designed a ten-week course, in which each hour and a half class would consist of a playful writing prompt, an easy group cooking activity and snack, and time to journal the experience in handmade books. Upon finishing the course, students would have a book of their own making with their own food writing. Over the course of the ten weeks, students would also gain an awareness of how they relate to food, as well as a sense of confidence to express their appetites, feelings and memories through the written word.
When kids explore food with their imaginations, it helps to remove expectations of right or wrong. There is so often an admonishing tone around food now, and that is not any individual’s fault. Most people, regardless of income, find the American food landscape difficult to navigate. The cheapest, most accessible foods are often the least healthy; nutritional messaging has changed drastically over the years; and food insecurity has only risen in the past decades.
For children experiencing hunger, who might not know where their next meal is coming from, this landscape becomes even more fraught with uncertainty. Though children might try to downplay this reality out of shame or confusion, the impact of hunger on kids is serious and can be life-long: hungry kids are more likely to struggle with serious health issues and have trouble learning. In turn, they are less likely to graduate from high school and go on to college. These facts, and my desire to facilitate a different kind of engagement with food, are some of the things that I took into consideration when I designed the creative writing workshop.
Please see photographs of the student work below, as well as selections of their poems and stories:
Ode to a Strawberry, by Fabrizio
red with small
Green spike hat, in fact,
Spongebob’s house hat,
explodes with taste
in your mouth!
makes everyone happy.
Nature’s little bundle of joy
from white to green to red,
from seed to stem to a mini white ore
to the red result:
you put smiles on even the poorest in the desert.
Food Memory, by Naydelin
When I was young
in Thanksgiving or any holiday
When we eat our foods we
eat it like a family that brings
us happy family before the
sadness came and we would
always stick to the people
we love and care for.
The food we ate was Bread, turkey
Soup, spaghetti, and sometimes cake.
We would always go to the duck pond and feed the ducks our
leftover bread and admire
the happiness that our food brings.
I Feel, I am, I Imagine…, by Janet
I feel that I could do anything.
Like play soccer.
I feel that I could anything.
Like do Art. Sculpture.
I feel that I could do anything.
Like make money.
I feel that I could do anything.
I want to be in the world cup.
I want money and candy
because they are my favorite things.
Food Memory, by Jessica
Last Friday my family and I go to Jack and the Box and we have to get the same thing. It was raining and it was cold and our drinks were so cold. I was eating it because I was hungry and it was my birthday. It sounded normal because it was hot, crunchy. It had lettuce, chicken, bread, mayonnaise.
Come back next month to read about specific class exercises and see a short video!
* Jessie Washburn is a writer, food educator and cook based in Oakland, CA. For nearly a decade, she has used writing, gardening and cooking to introduce young people to the connection between food, community, health and land. Her education experience started at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California and continued at the Montalvo Arts Center and Bay Area Community Resources, where she designed and taught cooking classes at local public schools. She has cooked under some of the Bay Area’s finest chefs, where she developed a keen sense of seasonality and local ingredients. As a writer, Washburn holds an MFA in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is at work on a collection of poems that addresses themes of food tradition, labor, and appetite.
Special Blog Post by: Marc Baker, Grants Manager
For far too many local kids, summer is a time of anxiety—of wondering when there will be food to eat again.
This is especially true in East Palo Alto, where 95% of the students live in households that meet the income eligibility for free or reduced-price meals at their schools ($29,965/year and $42,643/year for a family of four, respectively). A survey conducted by a Stanford intern confirmed that summer was a time of particularly acute food insecurity, as students lose access to these school meals.
This summer, Second Harvest will be partnering with Ravenswood School District, the San Mateo County Library System, local YMCAs and the Pediatric Advocacy Program at Stanford School of Medicine to address the needs of these children.
Our summer food program will provide meals for children and their parents at 10 community sites (libraries and YMCAs) Monday through Friday for 10 weeks during the summer. In addition to the healthy meals, the libraries and YMCAs will provide educational and enrichment activities throughout the day to help children prepare for the new school year.
Stanford School of Medicine will conduct pre- and post-surveys with parent focus groups to assess how effectively the program meets the summer food needs of their families and what we can do to improve the program in the future. Stanford will oversee the evaluation design, data collection, and analysis and dissemination of program outcomes.
We anticipate serving over 19,000 healthy meals to children and their parents through our 10-week summer program.
Second Harvest will also refer participating families to our school pantry program on the Costano School Campus in East Palo Alto. The school pantry program distributes 90 pounds of groceries per family each month, including milk, chicken, eggs, cereal, peanut butter, ground turkey, rice, beans, canned fruits and vegetables, and fresh produce. Families can receive food year-round.
*** Stand up for kids and support our work to end child hunger in our community. Find out how you can get involved today.
Special Blog Post by: Suzanne Liu, Second Harvest board member
My experience with hunger is a personal one. Two months after my younger brother was born, he got sick. What doctors diagnosed as a common cold was meningitis, and days later my brother passed away. In his grief, my father became addicted to drugs. We lost our company, we lost our home, we lost our family, we lost everything.
My mother and I moved to a shelter when it was no longer safe. It was scary. I missed my clothes and my toys and my home and my friends. As a picky eater, not being able to choose my snack was terrifying.
As a mother myself, I cannot fathom my mother’s heartbreak and courage in taking this path. Her drive to have our basic needs met changed the course of our lives. For the next few years, we relied on food stamps.
My mother’s nursing certification had expired while she helped run my father’s business, so she wasn’t able to find a job. We moved in with my grandparents, and my mother took shorthand classes in hopes of becoming an administrative assistant.
As grateful as I was, even at the age of 5, I felt embarrassed that the way we paid for food (food stamps) was conspicuously different. We shopped in two groups — must haves (milk and bread) and the rest (crackers and fruit). The worst was putting back the same much-needed item week after week. My mother would tear up. I felt ashamed and imagined I was to blame. I developed strong mental math skills to avoid emotional encounters at checkout.
Fortunately, my mother secured an administrative job at an allergist’s office and worked a second, and sometimes third, job to support us. We graduated from food assistance, and I studied diligently to become the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. Serendipitously, I joined Google.
For most of my life my father was homeless. I am profoundly grateful to those who fed my father. Their generosity was the most impactful, precious gift I received. It would have been easy to view him as not worthy, or trust that our family could help when we couldn’t. This generosity lessened the financial and emotional pressure on me so I could focus on school, and taught me the power of compassion.
Today, though I am fortunate to receive free meals at work, the fear and uncertainty of missing meals never feels far away. It’s something that never really leaves. Only two years ago, I finally stopped sorting the items in my shopping cart. I am thankful each day that I can provide for my family, and feel privileged to do what we can to pay it forward.
One in three children here is at risk of hunger. In one of the most innovative and wealthiest communities in the country, if not the world, I believe we can do better. We can create the model that ends local hunger.
***One in three kids in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties may not be getting enough to eat every day. Please stand up for kids and donate today.