Idaho Foodbank provides 63,000 food backpacks annually and over 46,000 summer meals for kids within the state. Kyle Silverman is the Nutrition Services Manager of the Foodbank, directing their children's and nutrition education programs. Kyle sees these programs as ways to help working families “stretch their dollars,” enabling them to spend their limited money elsewhere.
The science and technology sectors are expanding in Idaho, but low-wage jobs are prevalent. Idaho ranks second in the country for children living in foster care or away from their parents and 42nd in higher education attainment. A recent report from the United Ways of the Pacific Northwest, which uses a standard called ALICE, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed to get a more accurate picture of financial hardship in the state, defines one in three people in Idaho as working poor. Roughly one in five children under 18 in the state live in poverty.
In Idaho, like other Pacific Northwest states, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, forestry, and tourism are the principal industries. Potatoes, wheat, and malt for beer are the major crops. Barrel cheese, a raw product for processed cheese, is produced here along with other food processing. Coordinating transportation across the entire state is a challenge that the Foodbank addresses by using three branches to facilitate deliveries.
For the Foodbank, serving rural communities is a challenge, but strong partnerships with schools are important to connect with those families that are struggling. The Foodbank relies on school counselors, social workers, and teachers to identify the kids who are most in need of the backpack program since they're “not on the ground.” Kyle explains: “They do a fantastic job. They care so much about their kids and know what's going on at home. They're coming in every day, asking for more food at lunch, or snacks, saying, 'I'm hungry.'” She also sees that involving parents in the process helps with improving communication between the school and families.
The backpacks are packed by enthusiastic volunteers from corporate, church, and other groups. They contain two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, and two snack items and are intended to provide the nutritional requirements for kids when they are out of school over the weekend. The challenge is providing a variety of options that are shelf-stable, cost effective, lower in sodium, nutritionally sound, and that kids will actually eat. Items like pop top cans are necessary in case kids don't have a can opener or someone at home to help them—and they are also more expensive. Funding support from partners, like Hunger Is, helps purchase nutritious food to fill the backpacks.
To continually learn and improve, the Foodbank conducts a survey at the end of each school year. The kids overwhelmingly love the program and are excited to get their backpacks. Reading their comments provides insight into their lives at home. Children in southwest Idaho, for example, report: “I like it cuz sometimes we run out of food and don't have money to get more” or “It helps with grocery shopping because we don't have much money.” Better nutrition also improves their ability to stay focused at school. A school social worker notes that “teachers report that the children are more alert and active on Mondays” when they have adequate nutrition over the weekend.
For parents, knowing that their children have nutritious food over the weekend relieves some stress. For parents who are working and still can’t make ends meet, time and income are extremely limited. They might have a disability, unstable housing, or jobs that require them to work on weekends. Often they must work two or three low-wage jobs to get by and they still struggle to afford childcare. As one parent in eastern Idaho said: “I love it because I work all week and most of the time I won't have enough time on the weekend to cook good meals.” Or they might not “be present” because of drug or alcohol abuse. “Backpacks are for the kiddo who doesn't have help at home for whatever reason,” Kyle continues. “It's not our place to judge and it's not their fault.”
Since some kids wound up sharing their food with other family members, it was a “catalyst” for the Foodbank to create a school pantry program. Now, families can obtain food boxes and are better served. In the summer, the Idaho Foodbank operates a mobile, “ice cream truck model” summer meal program to deliver healthy, packed lunches in a refrigerated truck.
Being in a more conservative state, the Foodbank stresses that they are a “private, independent, non-profit” and acknowledges that programs for kids “tugs at people's heartstrings.” Discretion is important because “kids can be cruel.” The Foodbank encourages schools to make student participation in the program confidential. They might be called out of class and place the food backpack into their school backpack and “no one's the wiser.”
Hunger Is, a joint charitable program of the Albertsons Companies Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), builds awareness and raises funds to end childhood hunger. The Idaho Foodbank received a grant to fund efforts in Idaho. This is the second in a WhyHunger series of profiles of grant recipients and their impact.
WhyHunger and Hunger Is are proud to support breakfast programs around the U.S.
The San Diego Food Bank received a grant from Hunger Is to enhance their School Breakfast Initiative. I talked to Jim Floros their Executive Director to learn more about the food bank itself and how their School Breakfast Initiative works.
Jim is a 30-year veteran in non-profit work and has a refreshingly holistic approach to food banking. He refers to the San Diego Food Bank as a “nutrition bank” that is working to go beyond merely feeding people but providing nutritious food to all their clients, especially the children. They serve 465,000 of the poorest people including 180,000 children in San Diego and the surrounding area. They believe in the adage that if you feed a child well they will learn and grow up to earn and stay out of poverty. They understand that good food is only one of several elements necessary for a child to learn and grow; yet they are determined to provide the best food possible for the most children facing poverty and hunger.
The Food Bank has a number of programs to acquire fresh fruits and vegetables and they focus on providing healthy food for all and especially the children. Jim is also reaching out to other food banks around the country to share their model and innovative approaches to breakfast and many other programs providing good food.
With support from Hunger Is, the San Diego Food Bank was able to grow their breakfast program in several ways, increasing number of children who receive breakfast and the quality of the food. The following offers a good summary of their efforts.
Increasing Healthy Breakfast in San Diego
A healthy, nutritious breakfast makes all the difference for young children. The first meal of the day sets them up for the learning and play that follows.
The San Diego Food Bank, with support from Hunger Is, has developed a 4-Point Breakfast Initiative to further increase participation in this first meal by thousands of very low-income children in San Diego County who are all too often also chronically hungry.
Last fall, the Food Bank added 100 students from low-income families to the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program, increasing the number of children on the program who are provided with breakfast foods over the weekend.
At a cost of just $200 per child, Food 4 Kids Backpack distributes backpacks full of nutritious, child-friendly food to chronically hungry elementary school children who are receiving free meals at school during the week, but show signs of chronic hunger on Monday morning. Some of these children were returning to school on Monday not having eaten since Friday’s lunch!
The Food 4 Kids Backpack Program targets chronically hungry children in San Diego County by working in select public schools where more than 85% of the children receive government-sponsored free or reduced-price meals during the school week, but have no such provisions over weekends.
All children who receive free/reduced-price lunches through government programs are eligible to receive Food Bank backpacks.
In partnership with school principals, counselors, teachers, parents, and dedicated volunteer leaders, the Food Bank initiated our Food 4 Kids Backpack Program in 2006 by targeting 75 needy children in 2 of our poorest institutions. Over its 10-year history, the program has seen tremendous growth thanks to generous donors – foundation, corporate and individual. We are currently serving 1,730 children every week.
Chronically hungry children are identified by teachers and school staff using guidelines and warning signs for program eligibility. These children are provided new backpacks each school year. Every Friday, the backpacks are filled with food that is nutritious, nonperishable, and easily-consumed.
Breakfast items constitute a significant portion of the food provided. This year's menu of breakfast-specific food includes Toasty O's, Oat Blenders with Honey, Whole Grain Cereal Bars Strawberry, Fruit Burst Squeezers, reduced fat milk and oatmeal.
As an added benefit, the Food Bank has adopted a mandate to fight childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes. To that end, the Food Bank makes available ample supplies of fresh produce once a month at participating Backpack Program schools. Additionally, Food Bank staff offers their services at all backpack schools to assist families in the complex process of applying for and receiving CalFresh benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps).
The second feature of the Food Bank’s effort to increase the consumption of breakfast by our young clients includes the distribution of 18,000 Family Units of whole grain buttermilk pancake mix through the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program. This longtime breakfast staple will be a welcome addition to the once-a-month Family Packs students take home in addition to their regular weekly backpacks of food. The handy packet makes for easy placement in the current F4KBP backpacks. Additionally, the Food Bank plans to purchase thousands of pounds of fresh fruits to be distributed through our Summer Lunch Program. Students participating in this program typically come to a Summer Lunch Program distribution without having eaten a healthy, nutritious breakfast. The majority of them participate in the free and reduced-price meal programs at school, but these meal programs are unavailable to these students in the summer months. Students will receive a variety of easy-to-consume fruits and nutrition education information on the importance of a well-balanced diet.
Building on the successful nutrition education materials identified and distributed by the Food Bank to Food 4 Kids Backpack Program students over the last year, the Food Bank plans to take the next step in our nutrition education outreach programming. Through this program, we plan to offer cooking demo classes for kids either at backpack schools or in affiliated afterschool programs. Held three times throughout the grant year, these nutrition education interactive events will feature lessons incorporating a healthy, easy breakfast tasting and a nutrition game that incorporates physical activity. The cooking demo events will be coordinated and delivered by the Food Bank’s Nutrition and Wellness Educator, who is a Registered Dietitian, and her staff. The events will be open to all students and family members.
The Food Bank will also continue to include colorful and engaging nutrition education materials in the backpacks of Food 4 Kids Backpack Program students. These materials will highlight important features of a healthy breakfast and well-balanced diet and practical tips for adults including breakfast recipes.
The Food Bank has recently rolled out a successful Food Rescue Program across the County of San Diego.
The program has seen nearly 600,000 pounds of food secured from area grocers who donate perishable food a significant proportion of which makes its way to breakfast tables of hundreds of thousands of poor and chronically hungry children through our vast network of food distribution programs.
The Food Bank works with a variety of local charitable agencies to receive the contents of the Food Rescue Program for quick and efficient distribution to San Diegans in need.
With 370,000 low-income people in San Diego County every month turning to the Food Bank for hunger relief, the Food Rescue Program plays a significant role in meeting this need.