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Addressing Food Security in Your Afterschool and Summer Learning Program

Food is the one afterschool and summer learning program component necessary for survival. Food security is something we deal with daily.

Students or staff might ask themselves on any given day:

1. Did I eat?
2. Did I have enough to eat?
3. What would I like to eat?

Increasingly, students rely on school cafeteria food for food security. Many in our programs eat breakfast, lunch and a snack or meal during our care; many have nothing to eat when they go home. We have opportunities to play a vital role in the food security of the students we serve.

A staff member approached me one Friday with a third-grader who'd been caught stuffing snacks from our goodie box into her backpack—against program regulations. I sat down with the student, not asking, "Why did you steal?" but saying, "Tell me what's happening." I'm glad I took this approach, as I learned a valuable lesson on why I do what I do and how I run and implement programs.

The snack was for the student's little brother, on the waiting list for his grade level. Those six ounces of juice and Goldfish crackers often were the last thing she ate until returning to school Monday for the breakfast program. Her brother wasn't as fortunate: His school lunch—at 11:30 a.m.—was often his last meal. Saturday mornings, they looked forward to the snacks she'd gathered to get them through.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Meal program launched in 2010. It's my mission to let people know about this amazing opportunity to serve students a heartier meal during afterschool—and the importance it could play in food security. Since 2010, we've seen California sites serving the meal program increase to about 2,600, serving approximately 7 million meals monthly. There's much work to do.

Think about food security as not just about food. Consider adding layers to your program-time food security approach:

1. Provide nutrition education activities or curriculum. Offer students a nutrition-related question of the day: "What is the second ingredient in your grain component?" "How many grams of sugar are in your juice?"
2. Provide resources for families during sign-out—information about farmer's markets or Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) offices, food banks and services for year-round help.
3. Create partnerships with food banks, farmers and neighborhood stores to provide families additional food. Have students create recipe cards and learn to prepare what they take home.
4. A school site garden adds nutrition education using garden boxes, pallets against a fence or portable wheelbarrow gardens. Help students understand where foods come from and how they grow. Allow opportunities for eating throughout your program offerings.
5. Add physical activity. Music and exercise or dance opportunities build happier, healthier students throughout your program day.

Continue talking about your role in students' food security and how it could help them achieve the goals and vision your program has identified to help address community needs.

Written by Bruno Marchesi, Chief Operating Officer, Center for Collaborative Solutions, who has more than 20 years of afterschool experience at all levels. Marchesi holds bachelor's and master's degrees in Spanish/Latin American Literature, and is a Fellow of the University of Southern California and Sierra Health Foundation Health Leadership Program. Bruno Marchesi is lauded among NAA's Most Influential in Health and Wellness 2017.


This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of AfterSchool Today magazine, the official publication of NAA.