We can hardly believe that our first year of doing the Summer Food Service Program is nearly over! It seems like only yesterday we loaded up the cargo van for the first time with those little white lunch boxes nestled neatly between those orange crates, and yet so much has happened! We’ve served thousands and thousands of nutritional meals, coordinated a huge variety of free, educational activities for kids, and formed countless friendships with families and members all throughout community. It’s been such a fantastic year for us and we couldn’t be more happy with the results. Because of this program kids and teens in Berea never had to worry about where they were going to get their next lunch. They always had somewhere safe to go, where they knew they could find free food, a caring staff, and fun activities. Here are just a few examples of how we’ve helped Berea become a healthier, happier, and safer place for families.
Helping kids and teens make healthy choices is a huge priority for us. We’ve introduced such a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to the kids coming to our sites. Some they have never even heard of! One toddler pulled a clementine out of the box and exclaimed, “Look! An orange bouncy ball!” On several other occasions kids would hold up food such as kiwi or cauliflower and say, “What is this?!” It’s been delightful for us to watch these kids familiarize themselves with healthy food and have their tastes develop over the past couple of months. We witnessed kids putting cucumbers on their sandwiches, spearing and eating a pear with a plastic knife, and trying veggie burgers for the first time.
In addition to this, our staff provided multiple lessons and activities to teach kids and teens about nutrition. One week we learned about how different parts of plants such as roots, leaves, flowers, and stems are edible. Another week we played a matching game that required kids to match a certain kind of plant with the correct seeds. And of course there was the giant inflatable colon, generously donated to us by the St. Joseph’s Hospital, to help educate kids on the digestive system, and every kid who came to this event received a free packet of information on eating healthy. We hope these activities and information will pique their curiosity and inspire them to continue to learn more about nutrition in the future!
Learning the Importance of Compost and Recycling
People who come to our sites regularly have learned the drill. When you are finished with your meal, you don’t just empty the entire remnants of your lunch in the trash. You separate it in to the 3 separate containers: Compost, Trash, and Recycling. This was confusing to a lot of people at first. We would often hear questions like, “Is this banana peel compostable or trash?” and “What do we do with the box?” Our staff actively helped educate kids, teens, and parents on properly disposing food waste. We even coordinated a special program discussing what is compostable and showing samples of a all the different stages of compost. As the summer progressed, kids and their families became experts at sorting their milk cartons, apple cores, and plastic bags in the proper containers. We consider this a huge accomplishment and hope they will continue to use this knowledge in their own homes.
Children and teens suffer food insecurity in a variety of different ways. Some do not have access to lunch everyday due to financial reasons. Others may only be able to afford food such as Ramon Noodles or hot dogs, but are not getting the nutritional value they need to stay healthy. Others may not be able to eat due to logistical problems or issues with time. The list goes on and on. Because the Summer Food Service Program is open to anyone regardless of their income or where they live, we have been able to provide food security to people from all kinds of socioeconomic backgrounds. We’ve had families come to our sites for a lunch every single day of the week, and we’ve had lifeguards come periodically from the pool on their lunch break. One father said, “The Berea Summer Feeding Program has saved my children from packing a lunch, then packing it around, or forgetting to bring it with them when we rush out the door. In short, it has provided lunch for my two children when they likely would not have eaten or eaten candy and soda to tide them over until they got home.” Everyone’s situation is different. Our goal is not to discriminate. Our goal is to make sure that every single child and teen in Berea has the same opportunities to receive a daily nutritional meal. We hope we will be able to continue with this mission for many years to come.