It Takes a Village to Address Hunger

Students explore the garden to learn about fruits and vegetables. Photo by Elayna Shapiro

By Elayna Shapiro, FoodCorps AmeriCorps Service Member, Polson, Montana

I went through the checklist in my head one more time, just to make sure I remembered everything. Ingredients for the dressing, check. Salad greens, check. Carrots, raisins, beets, check. As I unloaded my car, I hurried into Mrs. Smith’s classroom, excited to start my lesson. 

“Good afternoon, everyone!” I began. “Good afternoon, Miss Elayna!” they replied.

As the lesson began, I was excited to prepare our snack. I had planned a lesson around beets, our Harvest of the Month vegetable. We learned about the basic anatomy and function of a heart, and then prepared a “heart-healthy” beet salad. The salad was designed to involve every student in making a basic balsamic dressing with salad greens, golden raisins, shredded carrots, and beets. After everyone tried the salad, I passed out the recipe. I asked my students how they liked it, and if they would eat it again. One student said, “This was delicious!” Another student said, “I would make it and add a different dressing.”

As I was cleaning up, I noticed one of my students didn’t have a recipe. I handed him one and he said, “No thanks, I won’t be able to make this at home, we don’t have enough money.” I felt myself tighten up inside. I handed him the recipe anyways and said, “I like to make sure everyone has a recipe, just to share what you learned today.” When I left the classroom, I felt his words echo in my head. 

For many of my students, hunger and food insecurity are common experiences, and school may be the only place where they are guaranteed a meal.

As a service member, I strive to make my lessons accessible to all my students, but there are always limitations. Currently, I am serving in rural Montana in the Polson School District. While serving here, I have seen the challenges my students deal with every day. When I design my lessons, I encourage my students to try new foods and learn how food can impact their health. I strive to provide recipes easily replicable at home. However, I know many families are limited financially. Therefore, I source my ingredients from stores in town and design recipes with versatile ingredients. However, I know I can continue to improve my lessons. 

For many of my students, hunger and food insecurity are common experiences, and school may be the only place where they are guaranteed a meal. Many students take advantage of the breakfast program, which is a reliable way to ensure they start off their day focused and fed. However, I have seen students forced to eat quickly or not have enough time to finish their meal. It is situations like these that remind me of the importance of a nutritious and accessible school meal program. To fully address hunger in schools, we need resources all students can utilize.

I am lucky to work in a community that has many great programs already in effect. We have the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program that provides snacks three times a week. During the summer months, there is a meal program open to all kids. We also have a well-stocked pantry that donates food to our meal programs and is a popular resource in the community. As I transition into my second year of service, I hope to build up the current programs, such as the breakfast program. Breakfast is such an important meal for kids. At the beginning of the day, they need nutritious food to fuel their bodies and minds. This is essential for their well-being and success in school. Implementing programs such as Breakfast After the Bell could be one way to improve the school meal program. 

When I first learned about FoodCorps, I was drawn to the idea of using food as an educational tool. I hope to use my time with FoodCorps to increase access to food by strengthening the programs in the Polson School District. Our breakfast and lunch programs provide a great opportunity to educate our students about nutrition and health. I am grateful to work with a team that is dedicated to continually improving our response to hunger in our community, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish in the next year. 

FoodCorps AmeriCorps Service Member Elayna Shapiro was selected as a runner-up for the 2019 FoodCorps Victory Growers Award “for a compelling account of hunger and food insecurity,” winning a $1,000 prize for her service site, the Polson School District in Polson, MT. The award, sponsored by C&S Wholesale Grocers, highlights that many children struggle with hunger and food insecurity, and that the food they receive at school is the most important meal they will get all day.