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

Children wait in line for free lunch at the La Vega ISD Summer Meals kickoff held at Bellmead City park.
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

Passion, Plans and Purpose: Meet Christine Browder

DSC_1351

“I want my energy and skills to go toward making the world a better place, creating equal opportunities for people and making sure they have things they deserve and should have.”

-Christine Browder

Browder_Photo

Christine Browder is a dedicated Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) veteran with a heart for connecting local organizations to work together for the good of their communities. When I sat down with her, I quickly found that it is nearly impossible to have a conversation with Christine without noticing the passion and drive she has for helping people. Her role as the director of strategic partnerships and government relations involves learning about organizations, finding out how THI can help them and connecting them to various other organizations.

“So often [local organizations] are all working in their own little silos, and they’re all doing great work, but they don’t know what the other’s doing,” Christine says.

Christine has always been a planner. She tells me that when she was 15 years old, she made a very detailed, ten-year plan that included where she would go to school, who her roommate would be, which organizations she would get involved in and her plans for after college.  I can tell that when Christine makes a plan, she sticks to it. Her goal was to major in social work at Baylor University, get a master’s in social work from Baylor and get a master’s in divinity from Truett Theological Seminary. Everything was going according to plan, but when she started at Truett, she found herself discontent. For the first time, she questioned whether this was what she wanted to do. Despite her doubts, she continued her master’s at Truett, but THI director Jeremy Everett had different plans.

Christine always knew she wanted to work for either a nonprofit organization or a ministry in some capacity. When Jeremy offered her a full-time position, she knew THI was where she needed to be. She decided to take a break from Truett and began working for THI in 2012. “I didn’t seek THI out. That fell in my lap, but I felt like it was definitely something I couldn’t pass up and something I needed to listen to,” Christine says.

Christine lights up when she talks about her work at THI. One of her favorite aspects of her job is being able to equip and empower people, and then sit back and watch how her support in their work impacts individual lives and communities as a whole. I got a better idea about her passion for helping people when she spoke about her childhood. As a young girl, she served people by going out of her way to include kids who were lonely or serving meals at a soup kitchen. Helping people brings her joy. While other kids dreamed of being firemen, astronauts and doctors, young Christine had dreams of becoming a social worker.

Christine considers her faith to be a driving factor for why she wants to work around social issues. She felt a calling to help people in need, and she’s doing just that in her work at THI. Christine sees her job as more than just helping people, though. She wants to help others in a way that is well informed and empowering. She explains, “I want to create opportunities for families and communities to be able to use the resources that they have available to them to come up with solutions and figure out how to solve those problems and the issues that they identify and care about and want to change.”

When she’s not empowering people and impacting lives through her work at THI, Christine is probably traveling, cooking or spending time outdoors. She clearly values interpersonal relationships and enjoys spending quality time with close friends and family. Hiking, water skiing and playing sports are just a few activities she mentions that take up her time outside of work. Additionally, cooking meals for friends brings her joy, and she loves the challenge of experimenting with new recipes.

Christine is an example of a person who found a career that merges what she’s good at and what she’s passionate about, and now she’s doing incredible work because of it. Her passion for helping others, her drive for getting work done and her vision for the future will continue to guide her toward empowering people and ending hunger.

Growing gardens and minds in San Angelo

IMG_9680 copy

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.

________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

Families in the Community Garden 2
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.

11695761_436139229905779_5348499482731271804_n 3
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.”

Kids Craft at Garden Open House 2
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.

Community Garden sign 3
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

Dog Person, Budding Gardener, Efficiency Enthusiast: Meet Taylor McKinney

IMG_4131

THI is made up of a special group of people. We have gardeners, knitters, parents, cooks, and more—all on our staff and all passionate about ending hunger and poverty. Through our blog and in your communities you’ve hopefully gotten to see the work they do, but we also want to tell you more about why they do it. So, periodically we will highlight different THI staff members and offer a little more insight into the wonderful people that make up our organization.

Taylor McKinney_1

“It’s about feeding kids, and it’s about working with families, and about serving and bringing about justice to the families in Texas.”

To get to know Taylor McKinney a little better, we are walking to Dichotomy, a coffee shop a few blocks away from our Central office, on a sunny Texas afternoon. Taylor greets the man we pass on the sidewalk, and they have a comfortable, smiling conversation. Her energy and intentionality in the interaction make me feel like she put a lot of effort into earning that friendship. As we start walking, we quickly learn that she loves her dog, Scout, and that she’s pretty proud of a few things growing in her garden. She’s quick to get down to business though, and, before we know it, she’s planning out loud for our interview, saying that she’s going to try to be transparent but admitting that her perfectionism might get in the way of that. And she lets us know that she’ll probably make us shoot the video several times to make sure we get it right. Already, I can tell she is committed to her work and passionate about doing her job well.

Taylor is the THI’s breakfast outreach specialist. This means she coordinates the organization’s efforts to support and strengthen the School Breakfast Program in Texas and works with THI’s 12 regional offices to provide them with the materials, data and training they need to help increase the number of students getting breakfast at school.

After getting to the coffee shop and ordering espresso, we find our corner and Taylor picks up where she left off. “I love that we’re not self-centered,” she says. And when she says “we,” she means the organization as a whole. “It’s not about Texas Hunger Initiative. It’s not about me. It’s not about the work we do. It’s about feeding kids, and it’s about working with families, and about serving and bringing about justice on behalf of the families in Texas.”

Prior to coming to THI, Taylor worked as a social worker at a local elementary school. As she tells me about that work, she talks about “her kids” with a lot of respect, referring to them as small adults. She tells a story of commiserating with a little boy who hated math class and learning the boy doesn’t have enough to eat. I hear how she wants to understand their stories and would do anything to provide support, food and friendship for them. She talks about walking the table aisles at lunch, army-general style, making sure the kids eat their meals. Listening to Taylor’s reflection, it’s obvious that she cares about the kids and was passionate about her work.

10313287_10203926160744953_7636653051794350890_n

Taylor’s passion for people and service is not limited to her work at THI. For Taylor, interaction with people from all walks of life and engagement with hunger relief extend beyond work life and into her personal world. CrossTies Ecumenical Church occupies her time during the week. The church includes the Gospel Café, which ministers by serving lunch three days a week to customers, even if they can’t afford to pay for their meal. Commenting on her involvement, she says, “the whole purpose of the church is to be church.” Taylor discusses her personal journey in learning to be open and vulnerable with the people in her life, realizing that this aspect is essential to building relationships, walking through life with people, and “being church.”

As we discussed her current work at THI, Taylor mentioned the words efficiency and productivity more times that I could count. She is tirelessly working to do things right the first time and doesn’t want to sit around talking about ideas when a plan is in place. Act. Do a lot of good in a short amount of time. This sentiment is ultimately guided by a desire to make an impact. She wants her time and her work to be meaningful, believes in what she does, and pours those emotions into a practical framework of efficiency.

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

zHQyo4YiH5qRG48xOupSmAzeLoXUjwOXXhwJlMuOZyU

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.

XOyTcX6XWYoj_vk06N2ygX2Wybi-i91__I6LaPo_QpM

Adopt-a-Week: Canyon Community Organizations Volunteer Time

kidsandpoliceamarillo

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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].”

imagejpeg_0_5
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

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

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.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

885587_918357904874401_3219448236517701775_o
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.

La Vega Kickoff 3
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.

book
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

chef boy 2

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.

A Commission to do Something About Hunger: Hunger in America Mission Trip

IMAG1182

In this blog post, public relations junior Lydia Spann (pictured below) reflects on her week in Washington, D.C., on the Hunger in America mission trip.

Students had an opportunity to meet Baylor alumni at a special reception in Washington, D.C. L to R: Lydia Spann, junior public relations major, Hope Loomis, development officer at the Baylor University Honors College, and Theresa Vu, junior biochemistry major.
Students had an opportunity to meet Baylor alumni at a special reception in Washington, D.C. L to R: Lydia Spann, junior public relations major, Hope Loomis, development officer at the Baylor University Honors College, and Theresa Vu, junior biochemistry major.

I live in Waco, Texas, where I encounter people who go hungry on a daily basis. For the past two years, I have worked as a reading tutor in local elementary schools and many of the kids I encounter are impacted by hunger. I have long been burdened by the desire to do something about it. I spent this past week in Washington, D.C., with a group of Baylor students to learn about the issue of hunger in America. Now, as I return home, I am bringing with me a deeper understanding of what is being done at the national level to address hunger, who is involved in the conversation, and a commission to use what I have learned to help the food-insecure who live right down the street from where I do.

Life in Washington, D.C., is fast paced and requires a lot of walking. My first lesson in D.C. was that high heels make this very painful. Secondly, I learned that flats are not a comfortable alternative. Aside from that, what I learned in D.C. was immeasurable. It is one thing to have a working knowledge of how the government operates and what efforts are being made to combat hunger in America, but another to see it firsthand and get a taste of the complexity of the work that is still to be done.

DSC_0016
Students met with the Hon. Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. L to R: Liz Ligawa, Justine Dietz, Theresa Vu, Will Ward, Rachel Gillespie, Sarah Theobald, Shannon Black, Shelby Sudano, Brent Golden, Kevin Concannon, Katie Yarbro, Lydia Spann, Haley Imhoff, Lara Kunkel and Joban David.

We spent time with several private and public organizations, like Share Our Strength and the United States Department of Agriculture, that are a part of the conversation surrounding hunger. I was encouraged to learn about the numerous efforts and resources being poured into this issue. However, I also came away from my experience with questions and frustrations, realizing that issues like hunger are complex. Finding an effective approach to solving them can be complex, too.

My generation has a tendency to be distrustful of government and the systems within which our society functions. Spending time in the nation’s capital helped me understand that impactful decisions must be made with consideration of factors that are so in-depth that they cannot be taken at face value. We had the opportunity to meet with the staff of congressmen and senators and several officials who answer directly to the President. This humanized the political process for me. These politicians are people, too, and they have a lot on their plate. They are incredibly busy and have the responsibility of understanding all of the factors that go into the decisions they have to make, all while keeping the greater good of our nation in mind.

DSC_0138
Panels speak on the importance of healthy food access at the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Summit, hosted by the Ohio State University’s Food Innovation Center at National Geographic. L to R: Hank Cardello, director of Obesity Solutions Initiative, Jeff Lendard, vice president of Industry Advocacy for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), Debra Eschmeyer, executive director of Let’s Move! and senior policy advisory for nutrition policy at the White House, the Hon. Dan Glickman, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Neal Hooker, professor of food policy at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University.

Seeing the limitations that come with this gave me an understanding of the necessity of partnerships in tackling substantial social issues. We met with several leaders of nonprofit organizations and attended the American Dietary Guidelines Summit at National Geographic, where we listened to panels of dietary experts discuss and suggest ways to foster a healthier society. The people we heard from were the specialists and innovators. I left wishing that all the representatives we met with the day before on Capitol Hill had the time and opportunity to listen to what the experts had to say. This is where innovative ideas are formulated and research is brought to the table to bring more effective solutions into play.

I am hopeful about what is being done to address hunger in the nation’s capital. However, I am a big-picture person, and it is difficult for me to look at hunger without considering it as a symptom of a greater epidemic of poverty in our nation. When I think about poverty and the myriad of issues that stem from it, I am overwhelmed at the weight of wanting to solve it, wanting to do something for those who are trapped in it.

At the tail end of our trip, we spent some time meeting and working with homeless people in the area. Washington, D.C., is a striking illustration of the disparity that exists in the United States. In the same day, we toured the beautiful White House and then visited a park just blocks away, where countless homeless people stay. As we met them, what I heard in several of their stories was that their needs are greater than what the Sunday breakfast we were inviting them to could meet.

I think anyone would agree that it is not presumptuous of me to say that my public relations studies thus far have not quite cut it in preparing me to tackle the entire problem of poverty facing our nation. The interdisciplinary nature of our trip was my consolation. The students alongside me were from a variety of backgrounds and majors. I was surrounded by future social workers, politicians and doctors. Our discussions and conversations after learning together made me realize that large-scale issues take a wide array of skills to tackle, and, luckily, there are a wide variety of people who want to tackle them.

DSC_0238
Students help make cornbread at DC Central Kitchen. L to R: Katie Yarbro, Lydia Spann, Rachel Gillespie and Theresa Vu.

My burden for the poverty in this nation left me full of questions. What is my role in all of this? What skills do I have to offer to be a part of ending hunger in America? What issue or issues, specifically, like hunger, can I dedicate my time and work to in order to make a difference?

Many of those working for organizations in D.C. who presented to us were just a few years older than I am. Yes, it made me wonder for a second what I am doing with my life when 25-year-olds are staffers in the offices of congressmen, seemingly running the country. But I was there. I am learning. I am engaged. This past week has been an eye-opening experience. Now I am left with a commission: we were given an exceptional opportunity to go and learn about the efforts behind combatting hunger in America and now, we are obligated to do something with that knowledge, whether it be around the issue of hunger or another issue or simply through a change in the way we live and what we believe.

 

Hunger in America 2015: Student Profiles

dc

Their feet are on the ground! Fourteen Baylor undergraduate and graduate students landed in Washington, D.C., yesterday to begin the Hunger in America mission trip, sponsored by Baylor Missions and the Texas Hunger Initiative (THI). Representing a diverse range of majors, these students will spend the week learning about the scope, causes and impact of hunger in the United States—meeting with representatives from the USDA and the White House, visiting with their legislators at Capitol Hill, volunteering at DC Central Kitchen and more! Follow their experiences on THI’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We’re please to introduce you to…

________________________________________________________________________________________________________


image1Shannon Black | Senior, International Studies major | Round Rock, Texas

Q: What made you interested in participating in the Hunger in America trip?

A: I became interested in the Hunger in America trip through exposure to social issues, such as hunger and nutrition, through my studies at Baylor.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A: I am looking forward to meeting with our representatives and other influential individuals to engage in dialogue about issues that are impacting Americans across the country. I am excited to learn about and advocate for hunger policy reform and poverty awareness.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

10849731_10153097086588278_8622093320524335977_nJoben David | Graduate student, MSW Program | Waco, Texas

Q: What made you interested in participating in the Hunger in America trip?

A: Policy is integral to enacting change in a democracy. D.C. is the cerebrum of policy formation.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A: I look forward to tracing the roots of policies and systems and the way they effect what our community eats everyday.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

image1Justine Dietz | Senior, Social Work major | Springfield, Illinois

Q: What made you interested in participating in the Hunger in America trip?

A: I was interested in this trip because I wanted to see how advocacy and the government played a role in the fight against hunger in America. The thought of meeting with government and organization officials and having a voice with them sounded so great to me.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A: I’m looking forward to seeing how my major and policy reform go together. I’m excited to see if policy and macro social work is something I’m interested in.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

IMG_2050Rachel Gillespie | Graduate student, MDIV/MSW Program | Knoxville, Tennessee

Q: What made you interested in participating in the Hunger in America trip?

A: I decided to go on this trip because I wanted to learn more about advocacy and a Christian response to hunger in America and how political decisions are made.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A: I’m most excited to meet Melissa Rogers, the Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

DSC_0582Brent Golden | Junior, International business and economics | Denver City, Texas

Q: What made you interested in participating in the Hunger in America trip?

A: I heard about the trip through the Texas Hunger Initiative, working in the Central office. It sounded really exciting. I want to be in politics or be involved in that kind of stuff, and so the trip sounded like awesome opportunity to get involved in that while I’m here at Baylor.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A: I think I’m most looking forward to the trip to the USDA. I worked a little bit with USDA regulations during high school, and so I’m interested in learning more about where the source of funding comes from and how these programs are implemented.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

HaleyImhoffHaley Imhoff | Senior, Nutrition Science major | Seguin, Texas

Q: What made you interested in participating in the Hunger in America trip?

A:  I was interested in being a part of the Hunger in America trip because a major passion of mine is to help those who do not have the ability to access nutrient-dense food. I would like to learn more about how to advocate for those facing hunger in America and apply it to how I serve others within the community I live in.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A: I am looking forward to visiting and interacting with the major nonprofit organizations, like Share Our Strength and DC Central Kitchen, to learn how they have become so successful in serving the impoverished community. I am also interested in learning more about USDA’s child nutrition program because I would like to work with children, possibly in a school setting in the future. I am excited to enjoy and explore the area of Washington D.C. as well.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

FullSizeRenderLydia Spann | Junior, Public Relations major | Antananarivo, Madagascar (originally from Texas, grew up in Madagascar)

Q: What made you interested in participating in the Hunger in America trip?

A: I wanted to be a part of the Hunger in America trip for the chance to see what it looks like to advocate for issues like hunger on a large scale. I am a big-picture person, so being able to learn about and be exposed to policies that have the potential to end hunger through partnerships with other organizations is so exciting to me.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A: I am excited to see D.C. and explore what it has to offer with our team. I’m looking forward to being able to sit in on meetings and work that THI is doing and see how the big scale work plays out on a day-to-day basis.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

bendparkShelby Sudano | Junior, Social Work major | Danbury, Texas

Q: What made you interested in attending the Hunger in America trip?

A: I got to learn about this trip in one of my classes, and it really sparked my interest. Hunger is an important issue, and I want to have a better understanding of the whole spectrum.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A: This will be my first time in Washington, D.C., so I’m incredibly excited about seeing the city! Additionally, it will be interesting to learn first-hand the political process.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

1560746_4937713537810_3922689350287362680_nSarah Theobald | Senior, International Studies major | Beaumont, Texas

Q: What made you interested in participating in the Hunger in America trip?

A: As I have gradually been exposed to the issues of severe poverty and food insecurity in our city and across our nation, my passion for fighting these issues has continued to abound.  Upon learning about THI and this trip, I thought it would be an incredibly interesting opportunity to learn from leaders and join the advocacy efforts for anti-hunger awareness and policy reform.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A: I look forward to growing in wisdom and actively engaging in solutions combating the injustice of hunger in America.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

TheresaVuTheresa Vu | Junior, Biochemistry major | Houston, Texas

Q: What made you interested in participating in the Hunger in America trip?

A: Coming to Waco exposed me to a different standard of living. Volunteering with kids in Waco, I have learned how prevalent hunger in America is especially among kids. The kids would get a special treat of fruit for dessert, but very rarely. Their joy of seeing fruit  made me realize how blessed we are that we take something as small as fruit for granted. Going on this trip will allow me to help make a change with hunger that could affect my kids.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A: I am looking forward to going to the USDA and seeing what the government is doing in order to aid the end of childhood hunger.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 10.12.57 AMWill Ward | Graduate student, MDIV/MSW Program | Clinton, AR

Q: What made you interested in participating in the Hunger in America trip?

A: I love politics, I always have. I love engaging in macro solutions to micro problems. At least, I have always thought I liked those things. This trip will give me a chance to do, first hand, some of the things I have always hoped to do. I am looking forward to not only receiving advocacy training, but to actually be able to go on the Hill and meet with congressmen to actually advocate for hunger policies. This is where theology and theory about this kind of engagement meets the practice of actually getting out there and doing it.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A:  I am looking forward to The Hill visits. I am not the best at speaking and interacting with people I do not know, but this will stretch me to do things that will help others in the future.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

KYKatie Yarbro | Junior, Social Work major | Klamath Falls, OR

Q: What made you interested in participating in the Hunger in America trip?

A: I recently learned that Waco is a food desert in desperate need. It hurts me so deeply to know that people near me have to skip meals on a regular basis, including children. Food insecurity is something that can be relieved and I am interested in learning how to do that on a bigger scale.

Q: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?

A: I am most looking forward to serving differently than I would on any other mission trip and growing in knowledge.