Healthy School Pantry creates a Community of Winners

Here is it, a hunk of glass, that says the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s Healthy School Pantry program is the best Children’s nutrition program in the nation.

The award was presented at the 2012 Hunger’s Hope Awards at the Feeding America Unity 2012 summit. This is the second year in a row that our Food Bank has been acknowledged for being a network leader in programing. Last year we won for our Kid’s Farmers Market program, which is already being replicated at other food banks. This is a tribute to the hard work of all the Foodbank staff to make this program work.

But I wanted to talk about the winners. The real winners.

These are the communities that build up around the healthy school pantry.

Communities not linked by the embarrassment or awkwardness that can come with accepting emergency food, but a community of families coming together in a fun and empowering way to receive some food, learn how to use it and to support each other in living healthy lives with the small amounts of money they sometimes have available for nutrition.

This is how it works:

We identify schools in low-income areas with high levels of free and reduced lunch/breakfast. We also look for schools where there is energy and openness in the administration of the school. We explain the concept, that we as a food bank have had it with old style distributions, like the one in the picture below:

Do emergency food providers give food to those who don’t need it? Would you stand in a line like this unless you were desperate to put food on the table?

It is our belief that standing in the hot sun/freezing rain (choose your geographical location) to get some food that will fill your belly for a short while, but leave your life unchanged is not an effective way for us to operate.

What has really changed since the great depression (except now people don’t dress as snappily as they used to).

A school site is a place with an existing set of relationships, and is therefore a place where we can build on those relationships to effect a more lasting change in people’s lives. Our approach is set up what is in effect a health fair, which is open to everyone at the school. This takes place at the end of after-school activities, so that we get the parents and kids together at a rare time when they are together.

The difference between our ‘health fair’ and the typical school health fair is that people actually attend our one. That is because we have food available. Food has always been the draw, but unless you are leveraging the food by providing empowerment and education, then you are not getting the best return on the investment of this scarce resource.

The other major change is that rather than just give them the food that we at the food bank want to get off our shelves, we provide the food that clients need to make a specific meal. Have a look at the traffic flow chart below (If you click on it, you will get it big on a separate page. Don’t ask me how…):

The HSP banishes the single line and replaces it with a vibrant movement between different stations of interest

As people enter our pantry site (which can be inside or out) they immediately get to taste the recipe of the day. If they like it (and they usually do, because it is delicious and culturally appropriate) then there is a Foodbank Cooking Corps volunteer cook there to demonstrate how it is made – and how easy and quick it really is.

People then pick up a ‘Passport to Good Nutrition’, which if they get a number of stamps at education and activity stalls around the Healthy School Pantry, enables them to take home the exact food they need to cook the recipe they have just learned how to make, as well as a bi-lingual recipe card. We also provide them with some additional healthy food from the food bank.

It tastes good, I can learn how to cook it, and I can get the actual food I need to make it at home?? How revolutionary is that.
Other activities include SNAP outreach, our Grow Your Own Way  program staffed by volunteer gardeners giving the materials and knowledge for people to grow some of their own food. There are also traditional health screenings (we had 150 dental screenings for kids at a recent single HSP site) and physical activities and games and the Mighty Zumba, not to mention our famous bike blenders which allow kids to pedal healthy smoothies into existence.
The HSP program has already served more than 1,000 new Santa Barbara County families countywide.  The HSP sites currently operate at 7 sites countywide, serving families from 10 underserved schools.We are also facilitating Nutrition Advocacy Committeescomprised of the parents attending the pantries, so they can critique the program, bring forward ideas and questions and hopefully forge an ongoing partnership with their Foodbank to achieve a common goal: a healthy, empowered community.
Food can be health, energy and power, and that power can help people begin to move forward in all aspects of their lives.That’s the real victory.

One thought on “Healthy School Pantry creates a Community of Winners

  1. Pingback: The Backpack Program: Sacred Cow or Fatted Calf? « From Hunger to Health

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