When kids are involved in the choice, they are more inclined to take part.
That is the philosophy behind FIND Food Bank’s Kids Summer Feeding Program: Don’t just feed the children, make them part of the selection, education and preparation.
Teaming with valley Boys & Girls Clubs and local YMCAs, FIND’s summer program delivers produce to 17 locations weekly from June through August. Each location creatively sets up a mini farmer’s market, promotes “shopping day,” conducts cooking classes, and prints take home recipes for the variety of fruits and vegetables they receive.
Now in its second year, the grant-funded program is making a difference. “When we started this program, many kids didn’t know what the different fruits and vegetables were,” says program coordinator Danitza Borges. “Now the kids truly appreciate the gift of healthy food and learning about how food impacts their body.” She said some locations have even noticed that vending machines are no longer empty by the end of the week, which is a very positive sign of change.
FIND’s program supplements the school subsidized lunch program which continues to serve local Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs throughout the summer. However, these meals are not always nutritionally balanced or enough for the clubs. FIND serves all the sites, but takes into consideration which ones serve three meals a day, which are being supplemented with nutritious meals, and which are being supplemented with meals devoid of fruits and vegetables. They target 8-10 pounds of produce per child and 5-10 different items weekly.
A motivating goal of the program is to keep families from spending limited funds on Happy Meals and to teach them new experiences with different foods so they are more inclined to eat it. Lessons include how to make a fruit roll up from dried pears, apples, and plums, or how to make a smoothie with fruit and vegetables taste good.
“When a family goes to the grocery store, most kids have little say in what is picked and purchased,” adds Borges. “With this program, the kids have their own bags and they are picking and choosing what they would like to eat. So, maybe next time little Mary goes to the grocery store with her mom, she won’t run to get a candy bar, but will head to the produce department to see what is there and to share what she has learned.”
In some locations like Desert Hot Springs and Mecca, parents have come to depend on the fresh produce and are often waiting with anticipation and appreciation. Borges said she saw more of that in this second year, considering the cost of vegetables due to the current drought.
“I was really impacted by the value of this program last week in Mecca,” she said. “The mothers helping young children fill their bags were field workers who were picking the fruits and vegetables all day, but could not afford to buy it in the grocery stores.”
“As part of the FIND Agency Council, one of the things we have identified is that the food from FIND is supposed be a temporary relief as people are trying to better their living situation,” states Scott Robinson, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Cathedral City.
“Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever.”
With that time-tested philosophy in mind, his club created a culinary program which teaches kids how to prepare food and operate a catering business. Participating teens are part of their “Leaders in Training” program, and some have already made money with their newly learned skills.
On the day Desert Health® visited Robinson’s club, older teens were teaching the younger kids how to make fruit salad and they, in turn, were being taught how to make a sausage and pepper casserole. Standardly on Fridays, local chef Sam Pace (formerly of Sammy G’s and Trilusa) volunteers his time at the club to work with the kids. He was off on this day, so the kids prepared, cooked and served under the watchful eye of Ruben Gutierrez who runs the club’s Triple Play program, a national Boys & Girls Clubs of America initiative which incorporates activities that positively impact mind, body and soul.
Cathedral City Boys & Girls Club even has its own vegetable gardens with corn, zucchini, tomatoes, lemons, and more which the kids plant and tend. “The kids really enjoy the experience of growing their own food and cooking,” adds Borges, “and they are excited about seeing their directors and leaders take such an interest in nutrition.” The directors enjoy the transformation in the kids as well after they have consumed nutritious food versus sugary items from the vending machine.
“We are changing habits starting with the kids,” says Borges. “And through them we reach the families.” FIND’s weekly surveys show that an average of 92 percent of the locations served have no produce left behind.
FIND Food Bank reaches out to the community with the same message: kids can learn healthy habits when you make them part of the choice. Those in need of produce can visit one of their pantries; locations and additional information can be found by dialing 211, the County of Riverside’s resource line, or visiting them online at www.FINDFoodBank.org.
FIND Food Bank can be reached at (760) 775.FOOD or FindFoodBank.org.
Editor’s Note: While visiting the Cathedral City Boys & Girls Club, we learned that they also have a very active photography and videography program. Participants in this program have also made money for their work, and have had videos featured at local film festivals. Upon learning this, Desert Health® recruited photographer-in-training Adam Scott (center, age 12) to take shots of our visit which are featured in this article.