By Erik Talkin, CEO Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, California, and author of Lulu and the Hunger Monster™
Summer is on the way! Before we know it, school will be out for the year and teachers and students alike can recharge their batteries. For kids, whose brains and bodies need to keep developing during that long summer break, nutritious food is key to that continued growth.
As CEO of a food bank in California, one of my goals has always been to ensure that children do not fall off a “nutritional cliff” during the summer months, when the need for nourishing food may be the greatest. Teachers, counselors, and other key school staff know that many students rely on free or reduced-price lunch and other food programs during the school year. But what happens in summer, when many of those options disappear?
What can teachers and other school staff do to ensure that students have enough food during the summer?
The first step is to educate yourself about what food distribution or lunch programs are available in your community during the summer months. You can find out this information from your local food bank or community directory. Information should also be available online.
Our food bank runs a program called Picnic in the Park, which provides free cold lunches, games, and nutrition education in local parks. There are many programs like this around the country. We discovered that holding the picnics in a neutral location, like a park, community center, or library, is a great way of drawing in kids under eighteen (and their caregivers). Programs running in schools are sometimes not as successful because kids feel they have earned their summer break and don’t want to enter a school again until September. (Don’t be offended! It’s always important to meet people where they are, and not expect them to seek food at the place that is most convenient for the provider.)
Educate Students and Families
Once you’ve compiled a list of available programs, you have to find a way to disseminate it. One person in the school might take responsibility for collating the information and designing a physical and email flyer. Keep in mind that giving out this flyer on the last day of the school year is too late to get buy-in from families. You need to start a few weeks in advance. Providing the information multiple times and through different avenues will ensure uptake by as many people as possible.
You may have to give special focus to those children who live in food-insecure households. One way to identify these students is to check in with kids individually at the beginning of class about whether they had breakfast yet and what they had to eat. This can be a casual conversation, but can reveal much about the food security level of the family. You can do the same thing in any session that might take place in the afternoon. Did they have a good lunch?
If through this subtle monitoring of students’ home lives, you get the sense that some households may be on the edge in terms of getting enough good food, then you can provide some general encouragement about making sure parents know they can get extra food if they need it. You can also include a “Community Help” section at the bottom of any take-home assignments for the day with a guide to local distributions and other means of help. (Links about how to access this information are provided at the end of this post.)
Where to Access Food
I was inspired by my work with food-insecure families to write a picture book, Lulu and the Hunger Monster (a bilingual edition is forthcoming this September), which looks at how a young girl helps her family fight off the invisible Hunger Monster, who tries to shame hungry people into silence. Over the coming months, many of us might have a brush with the hunger monster, so we need to know where to go to get help.
- The simplest thing to do is dial 2-1-1 and ask for the food distribution nearest to you.
- Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, has an online map that will help you find your nearest food bank. A food bank is a big distribution organization that will have lots of member food pantries offering service to individuals and families. Once you find your nearest food bank, you can click through to its website and look for the “Get Food Help” or “Need Food” section, which will have local listings.
- This page from Feeding America offers many additional resources.
- Food Pantries.org and Ample Harvest are two other sites that have listings of actual food pantries near you.
I hope these ideas will help you ensure all your students have enough nourishing food to eat this summer.
Erik Talkin is also a writer and filmmaker and has served as a principal in two production companies. His short film The Gallery, starring Helena Bonham Carter, was selected for the London Film Festival. He has won an International Television Association Award for writing and directing educational drama, and his theatrical work has been produced on the London Fringe. Erik lives in Santa Barbara, California.
Erik is the author of Lulu and the Hunger Monster and Lulu and the Hunger Monster™/Lulú y el Monstruo del Hambre.
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