Back to School: Solving Hunger is not Child’s Play
Countless studies have demonstrated the positive effects a nutritious diet has on the academic performance and social behavior of children. For years, MFB Kids programs have been working to ensure younger Marylanders have access to the healthy foods they need to achieve, but the pandemic created barriers we never could have imagined, making these programs more important today than ever before.
Our School Pantry Program reach students during the day in a familiar setting, while Supper and Summer Clubs provide evening and summertime relief. Weekend Backpacks help bridge those critical Saturdays and Sundays when other resources are not available.
Beyond School Pantries: Aberdeen Middle School’s Circle of Sustenance
Eva Thornton is a disproportionality social worker at Aberdeen Middle School in Harford County. She manages the school’s food market, but that’s just one piece of her larger work: to look after the social, emotional, and physical health of the children in her community, which includes numerous homeless students.
“I’m a true believer in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” Thornton said. “If we can’t meet a person’s basic needs of food, shelter, caring, love, no one can go to another level of growth.”
The middle school’s food market is part of a larger network of helper organizations, spread out in a circle around the auditorium.
“After the second wave, we realized that there was a strong need for wraparound services, not just food,” she explained.
The stations include mental health counseling, help with utility bills and housing, job training, pro bono legal assistance, and even free haircuts —wraparound services that literally wrap around the room.
“It’s set up like a circle — a one-stop shop for everything families need. And hopefully they get enough information to help them improve their lives. In the meantime, we give them food to sustain them until life improves.”
Bags of food are the final stop. Before the pandemic, the market was set up like a store so that parents could shop with their kids. COVID changed all that, but Thornton hopes to return to the client choice model in the new school year.
“We want more fresh vegetables. For families to come in and shop again with their students and have food that’s not canned or processed. Because we know that their brains are still developing, and the brain needs those foods that are really good for them,” she added.
When parents can’t make it to the school, the kids are given the food to take home. But the distribution is handled with kindness and respect.
“Just before the bell rings we call each student individually, so they’re not embarrassed. And we bag it up so it doesn’t look like groceries, so they can take it on the bus and not feel ashamed.”
At the height of the pandemic, families from other schools called asking for help. Thornton and her volunteers reached out to the food bank.
“We could never say thank you enough for that — for really being the foundation and helping sustain our families.”
Caring for Kids, All Year Long
School pantries do an excellent job of meeting families where they are, but what about when school is out of session?
Historically, our Summer Clubs and Supper Clubs have satisfied this need. From June to August, Summer Clubs offer weekday destinations for kids to share healthy hot breakfasts & lunches, and snacks, while engaging in sports, arts & crafts, and other activities. During the school year, Supper Clubs pair nutritious, family style dinners with academic support and social activities.
And while the “Grab & Go” Meals we provided when Summer & Supper Club sites were shut down during COVID met their basic needs, we know the positive effect of kids being able to enjoy a warm meal seated at a table with their friends in a supportive and nourishing environment is simply unmatched.
That’s why we’re thrilled that we were able to reignite the full power of these critical programs at more than 50 community sites statewide. “Our hot, family-style meals really help establish the right tone at club sites,” said Kelly Salters, MFB’s Director, Meals & Programs, Logistics. “By giving them the fuel they need to succeed, we’re setting the foundation for these kids to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.”
MFB also helps community partners statewide provide weekend backpacks so families have enough to eat over the weekend, and kids arrive to school on Monday mornings ready to learn! Learn more about these programs.
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