F4K Feeds Hunger & Minds
“I saw hungry kids here and I wanted to help,” says Ruth Campbell, Program Director of Food for Kids (F4K). Being the hands-on type who simply gets the job done, Campbell dove in, inspiring volunteers of all ages to join her in making this ambitious summer lunch program tick.
Five days a week—while many are hitting the beach—crews of volunteers from ages five to ninety don food service gloves to scrub fruit, parcel out veggies, and ladle salsa into cups. Others stuff lunch bags, haul coolers, tally up fruit and produce orders, or track the complicated charts organizing each day’s needs. Teens Ashley and Christian Chung designed the logo used on F4K’s flyers, banners, and baseball caps. One summer, teenager HaiDi Pye corralled her mom into helping her whip up cookies, bars, and muffins, so that at least once a week each kid could count on having a home baked treat.
The statistics stagger: at least 10,000 children from the Cape Cod Canal to Provincetown are food insecure, with only 6500 of these registered for free or reduced lunches. “Some people see it everyday, the teachers, the librarians, those that work with kids,” says Campbell, “But this is mostly a hidden poverty.”
It’s a multi-tiered situation: many Cape jobs are in the low-paying service sector; the economy here is overwhelmingly seasonal; and the cost of living is 30% higher than in the rest of the state. Couple that with parents who piggyback multiple jobs in the ten-week summer season while the earnings are good, and you have hot and hungry kids with no place to go.
Food for Kids is part of The Summer Food Service Program, a federally-funded child nutrition program, that serves children and teens from Chatham to Provincetown. Campbell, a former educator and preschool director, led a similar program in the Springfield area but that had one thing in its favor: the urban environment. She says, “There were established recreational and summer programs there where we could make daily lunch drops.”
The difficulty is in reaching the rural children living on the Outer and Lower Cape; only 17% have access to food programs, mainly because they can’t get to the food sites. Campbell is perpetually searching out creative ways and places to reach the kids that desperately need the meals. There is a critical need here for more sites and sponsors.
For the 2016 season, Food for Kids is mentoring St. Mary’s Church in Barnstable to serve the children of Hyannis at three new meal sites, and a new independent sponsor in Mashpee will be added. Between the three 2015 summer food programs on the Cape, one at the Dennis-Yarmouth schools, one at the Barnstable YMCA, and the Foods 4 Kids program, over 1500 kids a day were served, with F4K supplying over 650 of them. “It’s just an excellent federally sponsored program,” says Campbell, “but vastly underutilized on the Cape.”
The first thing Campbell needed was a sponsor, and when she approached the Reverend Adam S. Linton at The Church of the Holy Spirit in Orleans in 2012, he met that request with open arms. Soon a steering committee from the congregation was on board to support the initiative. The Episcopal City Mission in Boston granted the startup monies to launch the sponsorship. It is so pleased with the success of F4K in achieving its goals that they are now funding a position for someone to provide outreach to other communities wishing to begin similar programs. A sponsor needs to be a financially stable entity that can cover the program’s startup and its costs for the first month or two, as the reimbursement funds for the meals are received a few weeks after food distribution. A sponsor should also provide some community involvement.
“Like the federal WIC and the Free and Reduced Lunches programs, this one is monitored very carefully,” says Campbell. “Our concern is that we want to expand further on the Cape and the paperwork is tricky, but once you’ve done it, you’ve got it down. We lucked out here in that respect. As our awesome financial director, we have the Reverend Anne Koehler. Who could be better? She’s a retired marketing director for Quaker Oats.”
By 6:30 five mornings a week, Campbell and a crew of sous chefs are prepping the day’s offerings in the church’s certified kitchen. “We work from a giant wall chart each day, and usually it’s pretty hysterical to get 170 volunteers coordinating together.”
Food for Kids buys staples in bulk from Costa Foods, and relies on Jay’s Ultimate Fruits in Orleans for bi-weekly deliveries of produce and fruit from the Boston market. “Because we’re a federal program we follow their nutrition guidelines, so each day we serve milk, a protein, juice or fresh fruit, and veggies. There are vegetarian options upon request and even gluten free bread,” says Campbell. “We’ve moved to all whole grains and there hasn’t been one complaint. Last summer our favorite meal hands down was a meatball sub on a toasted wheat roll.”
Currently F4K is partnering with the USDA, The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Project Bread in Boston. On a more local level, designer and artist Sharyn Laughton not only volunteers one day a week for the program, but is a co-coordinator of the volunteers and photographer for the organization, and composes a steady stream of thank you notes to all the individuals and groups who contribute to the F4K cause. Steering committee members, Brenda and Brian Ridgeway, are helping to write grants. One award just received is funding the Cape Cod Theatre Company (Harwich Junior Theatre) to perform at six of the F4K sites this season. Another funded an industrial refrigerator. A just announced United Way grant will fund summer employment for one local youth as a site supervisor plus help purchase books and materials.
In addition to the congregation of the Church of the Holy Spirit, dozens of youth and adults Cape-wide have embraced the program, volunteering hundreds of hours to prepare lunches, and helping to get the word out. F4K welcomes all who want to contribute on a regular or one-time only basis. “We try to chose a word of the day and for me,” says Campbell, “it’s nearly always ‘joy’. The day goes by in a snap.”
This year F4K is sourcing their meals with more locally grown food. The Orleans Farmers’ Market will have specific vendors noting select products that can be purchased from them and left at a market collection area to be later donated to F4K. “Fruits and veggies that are accessible in bulk and can be easily prepped and packed into lunches such as zucchini, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and cukes, are ideal for us,” says Campbell.
Keeping kids fed and healthy is also tremendously critical to help lessen the significant learning losses that can occur during the summer break. To this end, F4K added a novel twist to their program’s lunches: books. Last year they gave away 2000 of them. “Kids who get a golden ticket in their lunch bag pick out a new book to enjoy and take home with them,” says Campbell. “It’s one of my favorite days of the year when I get to go to the Scholastic warehouse and come back with a carload.”
Civic and religious groups are realizing the local deficits too and donating. The Federated Church of Orleans, The First United Church of Orleans, The Saint Vincent de Paul Society of St. Joan of Arc Church, The Nauset Interfaith Council, and The Nauset Newcomers are all recent contributors.
“When people get together, it’s just amazing what can happen. It’s quite a feat to prepare and get all of these meals into coolers and packed with the appropriate hot or cold packs, but add the detail that we aim to serve lunch simultaneously at all of our sites at 11:30 daily,” says Campbell. “We try to build trust so that these children know they will be getting a meal at the same time every day.”
The ripple effect of the food is far reaching. Children know that every weekday they will be fed. They share and read books to each other as they eat. People of all ages and talents are coming together right here in their own communities to work together to fill this very basic gap.
“Food is important to all of us,” says Campbell, “but when we come to the table and eat a meal together, that experience is powerful.”
Food 4 Kids: F4K
What: Free lunches (plus snacks and/or breakfast at some sites)
Who: Age 1-19
When: June 27th - August 26th
Why: At least 10,000 Cape children are food insecure
Where: 16 sites, Brewster to Provincetown (check meals4kids.org for sites)
Locate a Site: meals4kids.org
Volunteer: Prep, drive, cook, bag, clean, break down boxes, pack, and much more!
Donate: Funds for food, books, packing, kitchen equipment. Mail checks to: Food 4 Kids, Church of the Holy Spirit, 204 Monument Road, Orleans, MA 02653
Vendors: Supplies and office materials, advertising, printing, tech and in-kind services.
Fresh veggies: Purchase and leave at the Orleans Farmers’ Market drop point (Saturdays 8-noon, 21 Old Colony Way)
More Info: Director Ruth W. Campbell, 413-537-9200, firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking closely at the food access available on Cape Cod has served as a profound lesson in social justice. The realization of the inadequacies that exist here has buoyed many volunteers’ determination to stem the need in their own backyards. HaiDi Pye, pictured left, the same young woman who baked all the treats, created an award-winning video highlighting the F4K program that was selected to represent Nauset High School in an International Human Rights Competition. View it at: youtube.com/watch?v=Q9oV3BLvEJQ