A Community Filled with Love and Support

Written by: Eugenie Schieve, Research Intern, Texas Hunger Initaitive

Early Monday morning, June 6, several staff members of the Texas Hunger Initiative and I set out for the three hour drive to Nacogdoches, a mid-sized city in East Texas. It was only my second day on the job, and I was extremely anxious to discover what we might encounter on this site visit. The goal of the Nacogdoches trip was to connect with the community through a listening session with community members.

Founded almost eight years ago, THI set out to end hunger across the state of Texas. As primary component of poverty, addressing hunger seemed like an obvious issue that could and should be solved. However, conquering hunger across a large state is still a complex problem. The struggles of food insecurity differ immensely across age groups and regions. In order for THI to better approach the issue of hunger, it is necessary to maintain a connection within communities, which is exactly what we set out to do. And, as a research intern, I was tasked with observing the conversations and taking extensive notes.

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Children at the Summer Meals kickoff event at Davis Memorial Church enjoy a variety of activities, including horseback riding and a petting zoo.

We arrived at our first stop, Davis Memorial Church, late in the morning, ready to attend a Summer Meals Kickoff event. A petting zoo with horses and other animals was already set up outside in addition to a few bouncy houses and a face-painting tent. At first glance, the kickoff simply resembled a celebration. But when I took a closer look, it became clear that the purpose was to strategically connect low-income families with as many useful resources as possible. As the time neared for the ribbon cutting ceremony, THI staff members met with a number of people, such as Pastor Al Shaw and his wife, Sandy, who were hosting the event, Bill Ludwig from the USDA, Nacogdoches Mayor Roger Van Horn, County Judge Mike Perry and Congressman Louie Gohmert. I was in awe of the number of people who came out to support the event ranging from the community, to the local government, to state government, all the way up to the federal government. It seems so rare that these voices are able to come together to tackle such a pressing issue.

As the day progressed, we moved from the Kickoff event and met with caseworkers and parents at Head Start, a federally funded educational program for at-risk families, the executive director and a volunteer/beneficiary of HOPE (Helping Other People Eat), a local food pantry, and finished by sharing dinner with Pastor Shaw, Mrs. Shaw, and two single mothers who have benefitted from the community, state and federal programs. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that all of these people were so willing to open up and share their experiences with us—difficult subjects that most people shy away from.

THI staff members speak wit Denise Lee, a volunteer at HOPE (Helping Other People Eat) in Nacogdoches. The food pantry serves more than 1,500 area residents each month, and is operated solely by volunteers.
THI staff members speak wit Denise Lee, a volunteer at HOPE (Helping Other People Eat) in Nacogdoches. The food pantry serves more than 1,500 area residents each month, and is operated solely by volunteers.

I realize how frequently our misperceptions influence our response toward hunger and low-income families. Each and every one was striving toward self-sufficiency, combatting the hopelessness of generational poverty, and giving what they could back to their communities.

No one understands poverty and hunger better than those who have experienced it first hand. THI seeks to coordinate across all levels of government and communities in order to develop meaningful changes. Oftentimes there is a disconnect between the boots on the ground and those who possess the ability to affect change. THI serves as the listening ear in communities. The Shaws exuded a sense of empowerment; they knew that their never-ending endeavors to support and improve the community were being recognized and supported.

Pastor Al Shaw (pictured at center) of Davis Memorial Church accepts a proclamation from the City of Nachogdoches, supporting the church’s efforts around summer meals.
Pastor Al Shaw (pictured at center) of Davis Memorial Church accepts a proclamation from the City of Nachogdoches, supporting the church’s efforts around summer meals.

I want to thank all of the kind people of Nacogdoches who opened up their hearts and homes to THI. When we first set out, I was anxious—afraid that the realities would be too harsh to face, but my experience was just the opposite. As Jean Vanier, a Canadian Catholic philosopher, theologian and humanitarian, appropriately describes it, “Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don’t need a lot of money to be happy—in fact, the opposite.” I’m grateful to have seen a side of a community that wasn’t filled with sadness and hopelessness, but rather a community filled with love and support.

 

Photos by: Madyson Russell, No Kid Hungry Youth Ambassador, Texas Hunger Initiative

Hunger Heroes: Addressing food insecurity at hospitals

At Together at the Table 2015, we highlighted a few of the many individuals working to end hunger in their communities. Learn more about each of these “Hunger Heroes” and their work in our latest blog series, and get ready to be inspired! This week, read about how a doctor at a children’s hospital is helping raise awareness around food insecurity and the ways medical professionals can get involved in the fight to end hunger.

Dr. Patrick Casey
Dr. Patrick Casey

Over a career that has spanned more than 30 years, Dr. Patrick Casey of Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) has seenthousands of children, many of whom were underdeveloped. Some of these cases are linked to medical issues such as cerebral palsy, which causes difficulties with chewing and swallowing, leading to undernourishment—but for children who don’t have an underlying medical issue, these problems often relate to the quality of their diet.

Dr. Casey retired from seeing patients this summer but continues to conduct research at ACH. He first began studying food insecurity in the 1990s, as part of a research project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “It was my first time to become aware of this notion of food insecurity,” Dr. Casey said.  Since that initial project, Dr. Casey has continued to research the impacts of food insecurity. Since the mid-1990s, Dr. Casey and ACH have provided extensive data on children’s health and well-being in Arkansas, collected through patient surveys and interviews. Currently, Dr. Casey is collaborating with Children’s HealthWatch, an organization committed to improving children’s health throughout the country.

“Through the years, the prevalence of food insecurity [in Arkansas] had run relatively stable, around 10 to 11 percent of the families that we interviewed,” Dr. Casey said. “But in 2008, it doubled up to more than 20 percent, and that really caught my attention. Frankly, it hasn’t dropped since then. And that motivated me to say—maybe at our hospitals, we should be doing something to try to influence the issue of hunger.”

A recent report published by Children’s HealthWatch highlights the high rates of food insecurity in Arkansas. As recently as 2013, Arkansas had the second-highest overall population rate of food insecurity in the United States—19.7 percent or 570,000. The rate of food insecurity among households with children is substantially higher at 27.7 percent, affecting approximately 196,950 children.

Food insecurity can harm multiple aspects of a child’s well-being, including growth, development, behavior, academic performance and overall physical health. The first years of a child’s life are especially critical, because this is a time of significant brain development. During this period, deprivation of food, for any length of time, can have harmful consequences. “We believe there’s convincing evidence that food insecurity is associated with a broad range of negative affects,” Dr. Casey said. “It’s worthy of doctors paying attention to it.”

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Beginning this summer, Arkansas Children’s Hospital started to screen for food insecurity at its primary care clinic. “About 20 percent of the families that come into the clinic are reporting problems with food or access to food,” Dr. Casey said. To counteract this, the hospital has implemented action steps to help children and families.

Dr. Casey began working alongside hospital leadership and the USDA to coordinate serving free meals to children during hospital and clinic visits throughout the year. Thus far, ACH has provided more than 40,000 free lunches to its patients.

This is a relatively new concept, and ACH is the first hospital in the nation to serve free meals year-round in partnership with the USDA, paving the way for other hospitals to do the same. The USDA hopes to implement similar programs at hospitals nationwide, and doctors have reached out to ACH and Dr. Casey to learn how to replicate the program at their hospitals.

Along with meal service, Arkansas Children’s Hospital combats food insecurity in other ways. It has implemented Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters, which provides education on preparing healthy, affordable meals. These courses are offered to ACH patients and employees. Patients’ families can also get assistance applying for federal nutrition programs. And, working alongside the area health department, ACH now has a Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) office on its campus, allowing families the convenience to apply for or renew benefits while they are at the hospital.

Dr. Casey said that the hospital has wanted to offer a food pantry but is limited due to space. Because of this, the hospital has partnered with a nearby food pantry to provide food to its patients’ families. It is also working with a local church to develop a mobile food pantry that it hopes to launch later this year. Additionally, ACH now has a community garden on its grounds, maintained by AmeriCorps members, and an ACH faculty member and research nutritionist will help develop education opportunities around the garden.

“I think [these programs] are a reflection of what we, at a hospital, can do to address food security,” Dr. Casey said.

Dr. Casey and Arkansas Children’s Hospital illustrate the impact the medical community can have on food insecurity. Through their research and programs, they are highlighting the issue of childhood hunger in our country while simultaneously combating it, ensuring children are healthy and nutritiously fed. We’re inspired by their work and hope other hospitals and doctors take similar steps to fight childhood hunger in their communities.

Post by: Ashley Yeaman, Social Media & Communications Specialist, Texas Hunger Initiative

 

Hunger Heroes: Child Nutrition Director goes above and beyond at La Vega ISD

Dave Thiel, Child Nutrition Program Director for La Vega ISD.
Dave Thiel, Director of Child Nutrition for La Vega ISD. Photo courtesy of La Vega ISD.

At Together at the Table 2015, our Summit program highlighted a few of the many individuals working to end hunger in their communities. Learn more about each of these “Hunger Heroes” and their work in our latest blog series, and get ready to be inspired! First up—a Central Texas school nutrition director who is helping implement innovative programs to feed students.

As the director of the child nutrition department at La Vega Independent School District, Dave Thiel wears many hats. He manages the National School Lunch Program (NSLP)m the School Breakfast Program (SBP), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and afterschool meals.

Thiel has been in the food industry his whole life, from commercial establishments to running his own restaurant and catering company, as well as having worked at Baylor University for many years. Only recently has he switched to the K-12 public school sector, and the district has already seen tremendous results in child nutrition because of it.

“I have just noticed from the get go that he is deeply committed to his work to serve meals and engage with his students,” Kelsey Miller, child hunger outreach specialist in the THI – Waco regional office, said. “It seems that [Thiel] is a pretty creative thinker. He is innovative and likes to try new ideas.”

Thanks to the support of the La Vega ISD administration and school district as a whole, all of the child nutrition programs implemented have been met with encouragement, innovation and creative thinking.

“I’ll give credit to the entire child nutrition team,” Thiel said. “It’s not just me or one person or one small office—it’s a lot of people making the effort and spreading the good word about what we are trying to do.”

During Thiel’s time, La Vega ISD has implemented many successful programs, such as the Taste it Tuesday program. Taste it Tuesday gives students an opportunity to sample healthy foods, served by the Child Nutrition Department. The sampling program is a great way to expose students to a variety of different foods throughout the school year.

The Child Nutrition Department has implemented the Taste it Tuesday at all levels in the La Vega district—from primary to high school. The program introduces new and unique foods to students who may not try them otherwise. At one of the primary schools, Taste it Tuesday introduced students to grapefruit, orange slices with yogurt or fresh berries and zucchini!

Also thanks in part to Thiel, along with the La Vega district administration, the Summer Meals Program went from serving 5,500 meals during the summer of 2014 to more than 16,000 meals this past summer. Its kickoff event at Brame Park in Bellmead was particularly successful. The event was a collaborative effort between THI, the La Vega administration and the child nutrition department, as well as the city of Bellmead, and it launched the Lunch Bus Express and Bookmobile—two programs that were integral in the success and participation increase of the Summer Meals Program.

The Bookmobile provided free books to kids throughout the summer at the Summer Meals site in Brame Park.
The Bookmobile provided free books to kids throughout the summer at the Summer Meals site in Brame Park.

“I think [the kickoff] was a good thing for Bellmead. A ton goes on in Waco, but Bellmead is just right up the road. Bellmead has a very similar population to Waco but doesn’t quite get fanfare.” Miller said. “Dave Thiel and I have noticed that there is not a city recreation center, and so there is not a space for kids just to be kids. I think to get some of those things through the kickoff event was really cool.”

Thiel has advocated for innovation in his child nutrition programs since the day he started in his position at La Vega. He and his staff at every level are committed to the La Vega ISD students well-being. He looks for ways to improve and propel the success, health and happiness of the district into the future. But most importantly, he has a heart for helping kids in every capacity and is going above and beyond to do so in the hunger space.

“I really see him as a hero in that community, because he advocates for kids and health in a way that goes far beyond overseeing the preparation of meals,” Miller said.

We’re grateful to Thiel for his service to the Bellmead community and students at La Vega ISD. He exemplifies what it means to be a Hunger Hero!

Post by: Madyson Russell, No Kid Hungry Communications Youth Ambassador, Texas Hunger Initiative

Cover photo by: Matt Chelf, Communications Intern, Texas Hunger Initiative

Growing gardens and minds in San Angelo

How can Summer Meals sites keep kids engaged and participation numbers up throughout the summer months? Our latest blog series highlights unique activities that can be replicated at your Summer Meals site! We end our series by  featuring how a Summer Meals site in San Angelo is using a nearby community garden to engage kids and families.

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Another summer has come to a close, and soon (if not already) students will head back to the classroom for another school year. To wrap up our summer series on engaging kids at Summer Meals sites, we have a fresh idea from San Angelo to share—something we think could help get kids excited about healthy food both during the summer and year-round!

At a Summer Meals site on the grounds of historic Fort Concho, an on-site community garden is helping kids learn where produce comes from and provides families with fresh vegetables and herbs through an adopt-a-plot program.

The garden was initially created several years ago by the Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) – San Angelo regional office. Fifteen raised garden beds were built, along with a drip irrigation system. Unfortunately, a drought and lack of volunteers led to difficulties maintaining the garden.

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Families can adopt their own plot at the community garden to grow their own vegetables and herbs.

But that all changed this spring with the help of Cindy Tschudi, a nurse at San Angelo Community Medical Center, who spearheaded the revitalization of the community garden. Tschudi, who was pursuing a master’s degree in public health, contacted the THI – San Angelo regional office in search of a community project she could take on as part of her public health practicum.

Tschudi worked alongside her husband, a student from Angelo State University, and the local Home Depot—which donated compost and supplies to create paths throughout the garden—to update the garden beds.

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THI – San Angelo regional office staff with some of the San Angelo Home Depot staff at the community garden.

Hard work throughout the spring and beginning of the summer paid off the first week of July, when the community garden debuted at an open house event, held in conjunction with the Kids Eat FREE summer meals site.

At the event, kids had a chance to explore the garden. “They got a chance to connect where their food comes from—see what a tomato that ketchup is made from really looks like,” Betty Teston, THI’s child hunger outreach specialist in San Angelo, said. “I think the kids were really excited. We let each of them pick a tomato. A lot of them put their vegetables in little planter boxes donated by Home Depot. They were really proud to take them home.”

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At the Open House event in July, Home Depot led a craft session with children attending the nearby Kids Eat FREE summer meals site.

The open house event also engaged parents. Five families adopted plots that day to grow produce, with plants and seeds also donated by Home Depot. “Home Depot has been very supportive—a community group that really wanted to help our endeavors and get the community garden going,” Teston said.

This summer, along with tomatoes, cantaloupes, green peppers, jalapeños, corn, basil and rosemary were grown in the community garden.

Teston hopes this project is something that can be continued next summer. In the meantime, there is potential for the community garden to be used for student engagement during the school year, as it is located close to Fort Concho Elementary School, part of San Angelo ISD. Along with families, teachers can also adopt a plot and incorporate gardening into their class activities.

This garden is just getting started, but we’re excited to see it—and engagement around it—continue to grow!

If you want to learn how you can use a community garden in your neighborhood to teach children and families about healthy, fresh food, contact Betty_Teston@baylor.edu.

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U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway toured the community garden at Fort Concho in August. L to R: U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, Cindy Tschudi and Betty Teston.

Post by: Ashley Yeaman, Social Media & Communications Specialist, Texas Hunger Initiative

Photos by: Betty Teston, Child Hunger Outreach Specialist, Texas Hunger Initiative – San Angelo Regional Office

Why Do We Let Our Children Go Hungry in the Summer?

Written by: Jeremy Everett, Director, Texas Hunger Initiative and Duke Storen, Senior Director, Research, Advocacy, and Partnership Development, Share Our Strength

For more than 18 million children across America, summer can mean hunger, anxiety, and learning loss, not picnics, pools, and fun.   When school ends for the summer, so do the meals offered to children through the school breakfast and lunch programs. Children in rural communities face this summer hunger crisis because the program to replace school meals – the USDA Summer Food Service Program – is not designed to meet the needs of kids in rural America. Incredibly, less than 15 percent of needy children in rural America have access to USDA summer meals program during the summer months.

We can and must do better. Policymakers in Washington need to go outside the beltway so they can see that a one-size-fits-all programs doesn’t make sense for feeding kids in the summer. Programs, like the summer meals program, often aren’t set up to work the same way in big cities as they are in in rural communities.

The Summer Food Service Program requires kids to travel to meal sites which open only for a short time each day and consume those meals on premises. Unlike the school year when school buses run and kids eat lunch in the cafeteria, the transportation barriers make it impossible for most kids to find their way to a meal site and impossible for sites to stay open because there are not enough kids.

Let’s take Texas and Ohio as examples. A child living in the southwestern town of Valentine, Texas, would need to travel 95 miles each way every day – that’s 190 round trip – to access meals from the closest summer meal site in Presidio. Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the executive director of the Ohio Association of Food Banks sees transportation challenges in her state, even when the distances aren’t as stark. “Last year, we met a 5-year-old boy who had been riding his bike, all alone, for miles along a rural highway to get to the closest summer meals site,” she told me. “Making this long, dangerous trip was the only way he was able have a healthy lunch every day during the summer. Under the current summer meals program, we weren’t allowed to drop meals off to him and he couldn’t take any food home with him for later.”

Feeding kids in the summer is an investment we can’t afford to pass up. When kids go hungry, it robs us of the best minds and the best talent for the future, while also leading to increased learning loss, expensive health issues, and lost productivity.

We can and must do better. This summer, Congress will take up the law that governs the Summer Food Service Program, and we must demand that our lawmakers make the program more flexible so that rural communities can ensure that their children get the nutrition they need to thrive.

Fortunately, we know what works, and so does Congress. Starting in 2011, USDA has been testing alternative ways to feed kids during the summer, and the results of those demonstration projects give Congress the common sense program options and data they need to improve the Summer Food Service Program so that it can meet the needs of children in rural America. These options include allowing programs to deliver meals to kids instead of making kids come to meals and giving low-income parents additional funds on their SNAP or WIC cards so they can purchase additional food for their children during the summer. The evaluations of these program options shows that they were able to reach more needy children and that those children consumed more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy.

We can and must do better. Anyone living in rural America or anyone who cares about the children living in rural America should contact their Member of Congress and ask them to authorize more options for feeding kids in the summer. Go to www.NoKidHungry.org/summer to take action.

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Adopt-a-Week: Canyon Community Organizations Volunteer Time

How can Summer Meals sites keep kids engaged and participation numbers up throughout the summer months? Our latest blog series highlights unique activities that can be replicated at your Summer Meals site! This week, we feature a unique way a site in the Panhandle is engaging the community around Summer Meals.

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Something exciting is happening in Canyon, Texas, this summer. The Texas Hunger Initiative – Amarillo Regional Office (THI) and the High Plains Food Bank (HPFB) are partnering for Adopt-a-Week, an initiative that is bringing volunteers and activities to a new Summer Meals site at Conner Park in Canyon. Local organizations—from the police department to Master Gardeners— are each adopting one week of the Summer Meals program and will come to the meal site to offer 30-minute activities for kids. The goals are increasing participation and getting the whole community involved with the program.

As is the case in many communities, hunger has been a hidden, and often unrecognized, problem in Canyon. So, when they decided to bring the Summer Meals program to the community, THI and the HPFB knew that they would have to be creative with how it was implemented if it was going to be successful.

“We had to come about Summer Meals in a different way,” Kaitlin Mosley, the child hunger outreach specialist at the THI – Amarillo Regional Office, said. “[We] focus on the community instead of hunger. We had to frame [Summer Meals] in a different way, which is why we had all the community organizations come out. [This way] it’s not just about feeding the kids, but about community [involvement].”

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Children listen to an Agri-Life volunteer during the week 3 of the Adopt-a-Week program. Photo by: Kaitlin Mosley, Child Hunger Outreach Specialist, Texas Hunger Initiative- Amarillo.

The first week of the program was adopted by the fire and police department. The police department brought one of its Tahoes, fully decked out with police equipment, for the kids to explore (pictured in the cover photo above). They were allowed to push all the buttons and investigate every part of the vehicle.

“I think [the police] are just committed to their community and want to see the kids,” Mosley said. “They stayed for an hour and a half and played football and Frisbee with the kids. They just really wanted to be there. It was really fun for the kids and ended up being a great way help them get accustomed to the police and not be afraid of law enforcement.”

During that first week, participation exceeded expectations. On average 30 to 50 kids attended the first two days, and the Adopt-a-Week program is a big reason why.

This idea has already proven to be a great way to spark community interest in Summer Meals in a very practical way.

“I really have a passion for educating children and giving them gardening experience,” Mary Stevens, a Master Gardener said. “I see it as a way for them to have a release of some of their emotions . . . the gardening experience itself is just so self-rewarding.” Adopt-a-Week connected groups that may want to serve but can’t host a site or provide volunteers for an entire summer, like Master Gardeners, to the Summer Meals program.

Creative ideas like Adopt-a-week can make a big difference in a Summer Meals program, both in participation and quality of experience. And it’s an idea that can be implemented in any area or community! If you’d like to learn more about how Canyon’s Adopt-a-Week model could work for your Summer Meals program, email Kaitlin_Mosley@baylor.edu. Or if you’d like to adopt a week of Summer Meals in your area, contact Grace_Norman@baylor.edu for information about a program in your community!

Post by: Madyson Russell, No Kid Hungry Communications Youth Ambassador, Texas Hunger Initiative

Photos by: Kaitlin Mosley, Child Hunger Outreach Specialist, Texas Hunger Initiative – Amarillo Regional Office

Books, Buses & (Lunch) Boxes: La Vega ISD debuts the Bookmobile

How can Summer Meals sites keep kids engaged and participation numbers up throughout the summer months? Our latest blog series highlights unique activities that can be replicated at your Summer Meals site! This week, we feature La Vega Independent School District’s (ISD’s) Bookmobile—a mobile lending library that aims to keep students sharp during the summer.

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This summer, La Vega ISD’s Summer Meals sites are hoping to fuel not only bodies but also minds. So, district staff, faculty and other local organizations came together to donate more than a thousand books to help launch the Bookmobile, a refurbished van filled with books for all ages.

“I couldn’t believe it when I walked down there [and saw the Bookmobile for the first time],” Lisa Seawright, La Vega ISD primary school principal said. “I hadn’t seen all [the books] together… when I went down there I [thought], ‘wow, this is a great community.’”

The Bookmobile will be lending books to any child or adult at each of La Vega’s mobile meal sites on Thursdays, all summer long. Children who do not read over the summer can be in danger of losing months of reading progress and, unfortunately, that loss can have a cumulative effect. This problem is exactly what the Bookmobile is trying to combat in La Vega ISD. Providing children with an outlet for reading during the summer will help to increase reading competency instead of losing it.

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A student checks out the book selection in La Vega ISD’s Bookmobile during its debut at Brame Park in Bellmead. Photo by: Ashley Yeaman, Social Media & Communications Specialist, Texas Hunger Initiative

“We are committed to the mission of utilizing all resources to enable students to be productive citizens and lifelong learners,” Seawright said.

Seawright will be driving the Bookmobile this summer, which will make four stops on Thursdays at sites serviced by La Vega ISD’s Lunch Bus Express, a school bus that has been transformed to deliver free meals, prepared and packaged by La Vega ISD’s childhood nutrition staff.

“We are looking to increase [number of meals served] by 200%,” Dave Theil, La Vega ISD’s director of food service and nutrition said. “I think it’s going to be a growing process and it might take a year or two, but we are definitely looking to increase and we have set some lofty goals on how many kids we would like to feed on a daily basis.”

Another goal of the Bookmobile, other than aiding in reading retention, is increasing interest and participation in the Lunch Bus Express and La Vega’s Summer Meals program.

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Students pick up a meal from La Vega ISD’s Lunch Bus Express at Brame Park in Bellmead. Photo by: Matt Chelf, Communications Intern, Texas Hunger Initiative

“I think the passion [to feed more kids] comes from during the school year, [when] we witness first hand a lot of students that go without food, especially on the weekend,” Theil said.

Together, the Lunch Bus Express and Bookmobile will help students stay hunger-free throughout the summer and maintain what they’ve learned during the school year.

La Vega ISD plans to expand the Bookmobile program next summer. It will be assessing the students as they return to school in the fall to see if there is a noticeable difference in the reading retention for the students that participated in the program compared to those who did not.

“We are extremely excited about it and looking forward to analyzing it after the summer is over and seeing how we can improve it for next year,” Seawright said.

If you’d like to learn more about the Bookmobile and how you could replicate a similar program at your Summer Meals site, contact Kelsey Miller, the child hunger outreach specialist in our Waco Regional office.

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A student takes his book selections from La Vega ISD’s Bookmobile home with him. The Bookmobile will make stops on Thursdays this summer (June 11 – July 30) at Summer Meals sites at Concord Baptist Church, La Vega Community Church and Brame Park. Photo by: Madyson Russell, No Kid Hungry Communications Youth Ambassador, Texas Hunger Initiative

Post by: Madyson Russell, No Kid Hungry Communications Youth Ambassador, Texas Hunger Initiative

Cover photo by: Madyson Russell, No Kid Hungry Communications Youth Ambassador, Texas Hunger Initiative

Chef Boy

At THI, we regularly say “summer is the hardest time of year for many students.” Unfortunately, we say it so often because it is reality for far too many children. When schools close, many children don’t have easy access to food. So, as summer draws closer, nonprofits, schools and congregations across the state are gearing up to offer free meals to kids during the summer. In this blog post, Shamethia Webb reminds us that childhood food insecurity doesn’t always look like we expect it to, but that summer meals still meet a need in an important way.

Chef Boy

By: Shamethia Webb

I’m not the best cook.

But the spreads I prepare each night are palatable enough for my niece and nephews, age eight, nine, and 11.

I’ve been told I’m the best cook in the world. This from a nephew who likes to put mustard on his black beans.

And that I season fantabulously, a conflation of the words fantastic and fabulous—high praise from a budding pre-teen.

I’ve even managed to make spinach—the super food that most resembles tree leaves and who’s appearance on dinner plates has prompted my nephews to accuse me of trying to feed them yard waste—a welcome addition to entrees.

I’m not the best cook, but I know how to prepare flavorsome and filling meals that will satisfy persnickety adolescent palates.

And every now and then—buoyed by an energetic, “You’re an awesome cook Aunt Meme!” I’ll wheel out my miniature barbecue pit (“Napoleon”), stack charcoal in the adult version of Lego-building, and prepare to show the entire neighborhood that I am, at the very least, a mediocre cook.

The barbecue must smell appetizing enough anyway since, without fail, at least half a dozen of my niece and nephew’s friends from the neighborhood turn up hoping to be offered a plate.

And the reader could assume that this is where the account of food insecurity would begin. That I would begin detailing how I had to feed ten or so children with two loaves and barbecued chicken.

But s/he would be wrong.

These were kids I knew from my neighborhood. Most of these weren’t food-insecure. Just wanted a chargrilled substitute for the meal that was being offered at home. Nope, no multitude of hungry kids to describe.

But there was one little boy, maybe six, whom I didn’t know. He was visiting. Someone’s cousin. And he stood and watched as I prepared the grill and gathered materials. Even when the other kids grew bored and ran off to play, he stayed and observed as I began adding food to the pit.

He was fairly quiet until I added the hamburger meat to the pit. He perked up, piped out:

I’ve cooked that before!

I was confused.

Huh?

I’ve cooked that before. That meat.

This hamburger meat?

Yes. I’ve cooked it.

You saw someone cook it?

He gave me one of those exasperated looks young children often levy at uncomprehending adults.

I cooked it.

When I could only stare at him blankly, he explained, sharing that he’d taken a pound of ground beef and cooked it in the microwave because he was hungry.

He seemed proud that he was able to accomplish such a complicated task but admitted that he was disappointed that the microwaved meat didn’t taste as good as he’d hoped.

I’ll have to season more better next time, he commented.

He encouraged me to season my barbecue before being distracted by a developing game of football and wandering off.

I’m not the best cook.

But six-year-olds? They’re not the best cooks either.

An Exciting Week for THI: Legislation Moves Forward, Kids’ Voices are Heard

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Children from Elsa England Elementary in Round Rock and Travis Heights Elementary in Austin were able to meet Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. shortly after the Breakfast Bill passed the Texas House of Representatives.

It has been an exciting week for the Texas Hunger Initiative. Last Thursday, Senate Bill 376, the “Breakfast Bill,” passed the Texas House of Representatives and now moves forward to the governor’s office. And yesterday, House Bill 749 passed through the Senate Committee on Government Organization with a unanimous vote. In this bill, it is proposed that the Texas Hunger Initiative and the Texas Department of Agriculture would work together on a five-year plan to increase participation in summer food programs.

It really is history in the making.  These two bills have the potential to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry children throughout the state.

Children from Elsa England Elementary in Round Rock and Travis Heights Elementary in Austin witnessed history unfold last week with the announcement of SB 376 passing the House, as they stood on the steps of the State Capitol for their Rally Against Childhood Hunger.

Funded by the Sodexo grant, Elsa England Elementary third-graders have been tackling childhood hunger all year, raising funds, giving presentations to younger students, and even writing persuasive letters to President Obama.

For their teacher and primary organizer of the project, Rachael Brunson, childhood hunger is an issue that hits close to home.

“There were many, many days when I did not have enough to eat,” Brunson said in an interview with TV station KXAN in Austin. “When you don’t have enough to eat, you find it hard to concentrate on anything except where you’re going to get your next meal.”

Childhood hunger is a huge problem in Texas today, affecting one in four Texas children, according to a study from Feeding America.

Ricky, a student at Travis Heights Elementary, brings a face to these statistics.

“I myself have suffered from hunger,” he said during the rally, standing on top of a crate to reach the microphone. “It affected my grades and I went all the time not knowing where my next meal would come from. I don’t want any other kids to suffer like I did.”

Because of stories like Ricky’s, childhood hunger became the issue the students rallied around.  Elsa England students partnered with students from Travis Heights Elementary to prepare for their rally at the Capitol, months before the event. They rehearsed chants, brainstormed T-shirt designs, and created colorful posters and banners.

Students came to the Capitol ready for their rally, armed with chants like “Kids should never be famished!” and posters urging the public to “Get involved now!”

Speakers included Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, Joanna Linden, CDO of Capitol Area Food Bank, and Dr. Jesús H. Chávez, superintendent of Round Rock ISD.

Linden said her work puts her directly in the front lines of hungry children, and shows her how crucial the issue is in Texas.

“I get to see many different faces of hunger every single day, and as a mom of two daughters of my own, the thing that disturbs me the most is the face of a hungry child. Two out of every five of our clients are kids,” Linden said. “Food is the fuel for children to learn and develop every single day. Hunger limits a child’s potential and their opportunity to grow.”

Linden was inspired by the enthusiasm of the students, teachers and all involved in the rally.

“They inspire the work that we do to make sure that kids are fed. Through partnerships, through people getting together, we truly are able to make a difference,” Linden said.

After the Breakfast Bill passed, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. spoke to the students on how crucial the legislation will be for children across Texas.

“Studies over and over again have indicated to us that if a child eats a nutritious meal, then he or she will learn more, and that’s what we want,” Lucio, Jr. said. “You will be our leaders of tomorrow, and we want you to be healthy. We want a healthy workforce, healthy families, and we want all of you to lead us in the right direction—our state, our country, our world.”

Round Rock Superintendent Chávez hopes the rally, and the hunger project, will have long-term impact on students.

“It shows them the difference that they individually can make, and the power of a group and working together,” he said.

For Daniel, a student at Elsa England Elementary, the project and rally have made him more aware of issues affecting children in his community and around the world.

“I’ve loved everything we’ve done. I knew it would make me a better person, because it’s a big problem that I’m solving,” he said.

Daniel has plans to work in a career where he can continue the fight against hunger when he grows up, in a “place where there’s a lot of hungry kids.”

But let’s hope he doesn’t have to do so. Let’s hope that our work, the work of similar organizations, and Texas legislation can wipe hunger off the map, so students like Daniel can live in a state where childhood hunger doesn’t exist.

Written by: Ashley Yeaman, Social Media & Communications Coordinator, Texas Hunger Initiative

Photo by: Charis Dietz, Director of Communications, Texas Hunger Initiative

Hunger Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation

Summer is upon us and for many this means carefree days of fun in the sun. However, for the more than two million Texas children who rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition, summer means they lose access to these programs and the guarantee of food that will allow them to lead healthy, active lives.

Texas currently has the fifth-highest rate of child food insecurity in the country, meaning that 1.8 million children don’t know where their next meal will come from, especially during the summer months. More than one in four Texas children are at risk of hunger. How is this possible in a state with plenty of resources to feed all of our children?

Of the nearly 2.5 million children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch, only 9 percent — around 200,000 — also participate in the Summer Food Service Program, better know as the summer meals program. While the summer meals program is one of the most complex social services to implement, we can do better and owe it to the children of our state. Through public-private collaboration that includes federal, state and local government leaders, as well as nonprofits, faith communities, the business sector and parents, we can make considerable progress.

The Texas Hunger Initiative, a statewide anti-hunger project within the Baylor University School of Social Work, is committed to turning around these alarming statistics. In partnership with Share Our Strength — the nation’s leading child anti-hunger organization — we recently launched the Texas No Kid Hungry campaign with the goal of increasing children’s participation in nutrition programs offered in Texas. By identifying barriers to summer meals participation and convening the necessary parties that can work together to overcome these challenges, the summer meals program can succeed.

The main barriers are lack of awareness about the program, lack of access to summer meals sites and not enough feeding sites to meet the growing need. The Texas Hunger Initiative, along with many partner organizations, is working with local summer meals sponsors to implement new and creative recruiting methods to increase awareness and to recruit more summer feeding sites. Our goal is to increase summer meals participation by the end of summer by 9 percent, which equates to 19,000 children served daily, as well as to add 50 meals sites throughout the state.

This summer, parents can dial 211 to find feeding sites in their neighborhoods. Feeding sites are located in high-need areas and all children under the age of 18 in these areas are welcome to receive a meal.

Not only are our children going hungry during the summer, but Texas, which faces serious budget challenges like many other states, missed out on $47 million in 2010 because of low participation in the summer meals program. Texas Hunger Initiative efforts that will increase low-income children’s access to food over the summer will also bring much-needed federal funding to the state.

Feeding our neediest and hungriest children during the summer months is a win-win on many levels, so let’s band together and make it happen.

Written by  Jeremy Everett

 Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative

This entry can be found on  the Huffington Post