Special Blog Post by: Marc Baker, Grants Manager

What if we wanted to build a program from the ground up, without any history or any assumptions? That’s the question we asked ourselves through the creation of our innovative School Pilot Program.

Second Harvest has joined forces with Sacred Heart Nativity School and Martha’s Kitchen in downtown San Jose to pilot an exciting new program designed to be responsive to the unique food assistance needs of the families with children enrolled at Sacred Heart Nativity School to promote their children’s school success.

Sacred Heart Nativity School is designed to provide children from low-income homes with additional educational and social services to promote each child’s academic success. Parent participation is a requirement for enrollment and the school has a strong parent leadership committee.

Last fall, we conducted in-depth interviews and focus groups with the parents of children enrolled in the school to assess each family’s level of food insecurity, what food support services they were already accessing, what types of foods they needed and wanted most, their preferences among food assistance programs, and what other support they needed to meet all of their food needs.

While 85% of the school’s families are earning at least one steady income, 52% admitted to skipping meals at least once a month and 77% admitted to worrying about how to pay for food. This underscored an ongoing, chronic need for food assistance.

Based on the families’ feedback, Second Harvest launched a new pilot to provide approximately 126 families (representing 586 individuals) with the healthy foods they desire to help meet their remaining food needs.

School Pilot Program Highlights:

  • Family empowerment model: The families have decision-making roles in the creation and implementation of this pilot. Families participating in our pilot program decide for themselves what healthy foods they need, order the food they want and volunteer to staff the monthly food distribution.
  • Family commitment: Each family pays a monthly membership fee of $3 per member in the household and can then order up to $20 worth of healthy food each month per person in the family.
  • Greater return on investment: Each family’s food will be ordered through Second Harvest Food Bank’s suppliers to get families more food for less money. Second Harvest Food Bank’s costs are roughly 40% less than the retail price that our clients would have to pay if they were to purchase the equivalent amount of food at a retail grocery store. In a recent cost analysis, our cost for grocery items that included yogurt, cheese, milk, chicken, oranges, beans, cereal, rice and oats was $16.71 compared to $36.98 at a local retail grocery chain.
  • In addition to providing Nativity School families with more food, we will track student absenteeism, disciplinary issues, student health and student test performance to measure how this pilot program is impacting the lives of the children and families. Customer satisfaction surveys will help us understand how the parents feel about the program and make necessary program adjustments if needed.

    Food pantry distributions began in March 2015 and will increase during the summer months when the families do not have access to their school’s subsidized meal program. Potential expansion of this pilot program at other schools will be considered once we have assessed overall program effectiveness.

    *** 1 in 3 kids in our community may not be getting enough to eat every day. Stand up for kids and get involved.