12:58 PM on Friday, March 26th, 20101 Comment
In a thought-provoking new series called Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC, Chef Jamie Oliver, a best-selling author and 2010 TED Prize winner, invites us to change the way we eat. The show follows Oliver’s efforts in Huntington, West Virginia – a community recently singled out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the “unhealthiest cities in America.” Oliver hopes to help the community move away from fast food and unhealthy snacks toward freshly cooked food and better nutrition – in their homes, workplaces, and most importantly, schools!
The show’s upcoming premiere has me thinking of my work here at the Regional Food Bank as I advocate for increased student participation in school nutrition programs. For the most part, schools in Oklahoma serve meals based on an established meal pattern: menus are planned and food is ordered according to USDA nutritional guidelines. Despite this, pizza, chicken nuggets and biscuits and gravy remain the most popular items in the cafeteria. These choices are not completely unhealthy – but couldn’t our schools do better?
Having more participation in the programs would be great, since only 45% of the students in Oklahoma participate in the National School Lunch Program, and even fewer in the National School Breakfast Program and Summer Food Service Program. These programs are especially important for students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals, as sometimes these are the only meals a child receives.
Food Revolution is loosely based on Oliver’s experiences in the U.K., where he employed grassroots efforts to improve the school lunch program. Oliver was able to completely overhaul the system to include better, more nutritious, food. In this series, Oliver will show how he tries to help Huntington as an example for the rest of the country. It’s definitely worth watching!
Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution debuts today, March 26 (8:00-9:00 p.m., CST) on ABC.
-By Suma Ananthaswamy, AmeriCorps Member/Child Nutrition Advocacy
In recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, people of all ages and backgrounds will come together to help improve communities and address some of our nation’s most critical needs: poverty, hunger, homelessness and education. Here at the Regional Food Bank, we are expecting a group of more than 150 volunteers to sort and pack boxes of food, which will be a tremendous help for our partner agencies and food pantries across the state.
Because the Food Bank has had such a great response from volunteers, the AmeriCorps team that I work with at the Food Bank will be spending the holiday volunteering at another organization in need: Parent’s Assistance Center (PAC) in downtown Oklahoma City. PAC is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and family violence, and offers intervention programs, parenting classes and family therapy. Our six AmeriCorps members will be painting, cleaning and organizing, allowing the PAC to continue to provide these valuable services.
You, too, can volunteer for the 2010 Day of Service and make a real difference in your community. The Regional Food Bank is encouraging Oklahomans to make their Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday “a day on, not a day off” by volunteering on Monday, January 18th at the Food Bank. There is still room in our Volunteer Center on Monday for volunteers to bag and box food, help with mailings and food drives, or assist in any way they can. To schedule a time to volunteer, call the Regional Food Bank of at 405.600.3154 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- By Suma Ananthaswamy, AmeriCorps Member/Childhood Hunger Advocate
Growing up, I attended a small school without a cafeteria; though I could always count on egg-salad sandwiches for lunch prepared by my parents, some of my classmates were not so fortunate. It was not uncommon for our teachers to share part of their meals, or to bring in food for us to snack on during the day so students would not go hungry.
Nutrition programs help to alleviate hunger in many schools around the country, providing low-income children with free and reduced-cost meals. These programs also promote healthy eating habits and contribute to students’ readiness to learn – but what happens when school is out for the summer?
Unfortunately, without these consistent, nutritious meals, many children go hungry. In fact, one in five children in Oklahoma are at risk of going hungry every day. It’s part of my project here at the Regional Food Bank, to find solutions to this “hunger gap” over the summer months. During my year here as an AmeriCorps Member, I’ll be working with schools to develop practical ways to resolve this issue; that’s my job as the Child Nutrition Advocate at the Regional Food Bank.
One way to do so is through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federal program that reimburses schools and nonprofit organizations that provide meals to children over the summer. This year, the Regional Food Bank sponsored 45 such sites around the state, serving meals in conjunction with summer school, day camps and recreational activities. Our summer food programs were able to serve a total of 97,975 meals to approximately 1,680 children, with a reassuring response: over 63% of parents reported their children would not have had enough to eat without a SFSP in their community.
Despite our progress, however, there are many more children in Oklahoma without access to nutritious food over the summer – which is why we’re focusing our efforts on encouraging schools to adopt this program. Schools are often the best locations for SFSPs, since most are already familiar with nutrition programs and have adequate facilities. Still, this summer only 112 of the 537 schools districts in Oklahoma provided a summer food program within their district.
Though schools recognize the benefits of providing these meals, many do not offer the program because of the lengthy application process and high costs of operating their cafeterias over the summer. Many schools, especially those in rural areas, also find that children lack transportation without a regular bus schedule; or they simply lack awareness that a program exists. Low student participation, in spite of high need, drives up the costs of the program even more.
Our goal this year is to enable schools to offer SFSPs, particularly in areas with a high need for a program. I plan to create toolkits with resources and suggestions to help schools with:
- Budgeting, to ensure schools are reimbursed for the meals they serve
- Purchasing food in bulk to reduce costs
- Partnerships with local nonprofits and faith-based organizations, to help cover costs
- Menu planning to ensure children are eating nutritious foods
- Providing enrichment and recreational activities, to ensure children’s health and well-being;
- Publicity of the program, to increase participation
- Providing transportation to centrally located sites – our biggest hurdle in Oklahoma
We hope our efforts will allow more children in Oklahoma to spend their summer enjoying the sun, instead of worrying where their next meal will come from – so they can return to school ready to succeed.
Ways you can help:
- Encourage your local non-profit organizations to run a Summer Food Service Program.
- Contact your local superintendent and inquire about summer food programs in your school district.
- Volunteer to organize and/or staff a summer food program at your local school.
For more information, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Summer.
If you’d like to get involved in the Regional Food Bank’s efforts to eradicate childhood hunger in Oklahoma, please help by contacting your state representatives through our handy online advocacy tool. It just takes a few seconds to help change lives.
- Suma Ananthaswamy, AmeriCorps Member/Childhood Hunger Advocate