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When you consider those who are facing food insecurity, who do you think about? At Food Recovery Network, our mission is fighting waste and feeding people. Our chapters embody that mission when they work to recover food and donate it to hunger-fighting non-profits. Some schools focus on feeding children in need, which can include after-school programs, youth shelters, and organizations focused on helping children reach their full potential. These chapters and non-profit agencies are working hard to look after these vulnerable groups of people.
Across the US, the estimated rate of child food insecurity is higher than the rate of overall food insecurity, a term meaning the lack of consistent access to healthy food. Feeding America found that 13 million children are food insecure in their 2016 Child Food Insecurity Module report. That means that one out of every six children in the United States is food insecure. Community-level involvement is essential when considering the sheer number of children who are facing this hardship.
Non-profit organizations who partner with FRN chapters and the community at large are critical not only for the food recovery model but as a source of nutrition for individuals and families. These are the places that meet needs with action, and for children, they can be a vital link between their hungry bellies and a consistent source of food. Some organizations take a holistic view of the issue and provide educational and emotional-social support, and opportunities for recreational activities, as well as food. Other organizations focus on homeless children who may need additional community assistance. Many FRN chapters work with these organizations in order to effectively reach our most vulnerable populations. The long-standing relationship between these non-profits and FRN chapters are a sizeable part of the life source of the movement for food recovery.
The FRN chapter at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota partners with several non-profit organizations in their food recovery efforts. One of them is A Child’s Delight Too, Inc., a daycare center and after-school program for at-risk teens and children. The chapter at Carleton College began partnering with them in 2015; they donate foods like produce and meat about once a week. In FRN’s 2017 Partner Agency Survey, A Child’s Delight Too, Inc. reported that they served 2,500 meals that incorporated food donated from FRN. The director, Caren Hoffman, said, “70% of the children we serve are on free or reduced lunch. [FRN] has introduced them and our staff to a wider variety of foods and ways to prepare them. Extra food that we send home with the children has provided food for them on the weekend when it is very much needed.”
Another FRN partner agency with a similar mission, Cornerstone Kids Inc, is located in Tampa, Florida. Their stated mission is, “to reach at-risk inner-city children and assist in their educational, spiritual, and emotional development in a safe, secure and nurturing environment.” They facilitate a summer program and provide enrichment activities and lunch. During the school year, they have an afterschool program with activities, homework assistance, and tutoring; hot meals are also served daily.
The FRN chapter at the University of Tampa, established in 2017, provides more than just a variety of food to Cornerstone Kids Inc. In addition to the hundred pounds of fresh fruit donated each semester to the afterschool program, the student volunteers of FRN also use their visits as opportunities to educate the kids about food waste. Jennifer Campbell, a co-founder and current alum of the chapter, talks about one of her favorite moments with the students during an interactive lesson they were, “so excited to talk about farming, food shopping, and cooking.” She continues, “we have the ability to create stronger bonds with the children in hopes of becoming good role models for them who are passionate about food sustainability and other environmental issues.” In the eyes of Cornerstone Kids Inc., “it has been a wonderful relationship overall;” the money that FRN helps them save allows them to hire more staff and pay for ongoing operating costs.
Another partnership that focuses on building understanding is between the FRN chapter at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and an organization called Children and Family Urban Movement (CFUM). The partnership started in 2014; Drake’s FRN chapter donates recovered food to them about twice a month during the semester. Brittany Freeman, the current president of the chapter, describes this important relationship, “[we] strive to bridge the gap between our students and our neighborhood. By recovering the food from our dining centers and taking it to organizations like CFUM, students become acquainted with the non-profits missions, their staff, and their daily work.”
To understand the impact of FRN and non-profit organizations on food insecure children, we must also consider those children facing homelessness -- both those populations that attend school and those that do not. According to a 2014 report by the American Institutes for Research, nearly 2.5 million children are homeless in the United States. That is equivalent to one out of every 30 children. City Rescue Mission works in Jacksonville, Florida and St. Vincent De Paul works in Baltimore, Maryland to support affected communities there. Without the aid of these organizations, the children in the surrounding communities would have to face the hardships of finding safety and food on their own.
The chapter at Jacksonville University partnered with City Rescue Mission in the spring of 2018. During that semester, they donated 3,500 pounds of recovered food to this organization “that provides food, clothing, shelter, emergency services and residential recovery programs to homeless men, women, and women with children.” The City Rescue Mission opens its doors to anyone in search of a meal or a place to stay for the night. The chapter at Jacksonville University stepped through those doors to provide food that would have otherwise gone to waste on their campus.
The church of St. Vincent De Paul in Baltimore has several programs to support the homeless community. One program in particular, called Sarah’s Hope, provides meals, youth activities and tutoring, adult education classes, and housing placements. The FRN chapter of Towson University began partnering with them in the spring of 2018. In that year alone, they donated 2,110 pounds of food to Sarah’s Hope.
Children don’t have a say in how food systems operate in our country, but they pay the price. We need to face this ugly truth: 40% of the food we produce is wasted while 13 million children may not know when their next healthy meal will be. However, FRN is changing that narrative. Chapters provide a constant supply of healthy foods to organizations that work directly with food insecurity among children. Their partnerships with local non-profit organizations in their community create relationships and opportunities for community involvement that can expand beyond the donation of the food. Supporting this growing movement against food waste means highlighting chapters and organizations like these who make sure that no child goes to bed hungry.
Heather Banikas is the Research and Outreach VISTA at Food Recovery Network. She connects issues seen during her year as a 2017-2018 AmeriCorps literacy tutor for elementary students to our current food paradox.