February 22, 2023
Expanding Food Programs for Youth
Project FEED is a youth hunger initiative launched by Feed My People in 2023. Its goal is to strengt...
Project FEED is a youth hunger initiative launched by Feed My People in 2023. Its goal is to strengthen our existing programs for children and teenagers, which includes school pantries, backpack food resources, and other special distributions for children, while working to extend applicable programming into every school district and county within west central Wisconsin.
Because our mission is working to end hunger, the primary function of Project FEED is to provide food so all youth in need within its service area can access a local program. In addition to providing food, however, it is designed so that kids are supported into the future by embracing a sustainable, holistic approach to the problem of childhood food insecurity. We recognize that a child needing food is a symptom of a more extensive breakdown in access.
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The need for Project FEED comes now because the communities FMP serves are at a crucial juncture. The cost of living is high, and although that is subject to change, it demonstrates that changing social tides disproportionately and quickly affect the most vulnerable families and, by default, their children. Although kids have always been a significant population for FMP to target and reach, Project FEED will enable and bolster necessary funding to feed all kids in equitable ways no matter what county they reside in today and into the future.
Project FEED stands for Food, Equity, Education, and Dignity:
Expanding distribution in schools at every grade level is the first phase of Project FEED. Currently, FMP has a program or a partner working in 43 school districts, which accounts for 68% of the total school districts in its 14-county service area. Adding programming to every school district will require outreach to learn current needs to create and sustain the right program.
Examples of possible programs include an in-school pantry where students may choose food for their household. This is FMP's fastest-growing childhood hunger program, with most added just in the past three years. Another distribution model includes backpack programs, which send pre-packed bags of food home with a child, typically before the weekend. FMP partners with 42 backpack programs throughout west central Wisconsin including directly supporting Weekend Kids' Meals, which provides food to students in the Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls Area school districts. Another option is hosting a special pop-up distribution where kids and their families pick up groceries from their vehicles. Special distributions like this have been piloted with great success at schools within Eau Claire.
Each program model provides food to a child where household budgets and existing school resources may not be enough to meet the need.
Feed My People recognizes that each child in need of food may not be reached simply through expanded programming. Project FEED aims to elevate and grow partnerships with existing programs that are already working with kids addressing other areas of need. Examples of existing partnerships FMP already has include Y on the Fly, Project Peek, and the Boys and Girls Club. These partnerships help meet the needs of kids who may have yet to be reached at school.
Besides access, another equity element includes providing the right food. Increasing the variety and nutritional value of the food available through these programs will go far in helping ensure each child, no matter their specific dietary needs or preference, can receive the right kind of food for their growing body.
Food is only one aspect of what a child needs to have a successful start to their future. Providing food through additional avenues is key to dismantling barriers and meeting the needs of the whole child. Communities with implemented programming can better serve their youth by ensuring that all kids, regardless of their experience, have fair access to food.
Another pillar of Project FEED is expanding the availability of relevant educational materials and programs. This includes creating or providing existing materials where gaps are identified on topics such as the availability of area resources, healthy habit development, recipes using the food available through FMP, and the relationship between food and brain and body development. Other topics may address the family, such as the importance of bonding and how that can be done using food from FMP to create and eat meals together.
Avenues include providing printed and digital materials for partner programs to use during distributions or gatherings. Besides producing targeted materials, Project FEED aims to create a teen council and additional youth volunteer opportunities at FMP. Listening to and supporting today's teenagers means FMP will better understand ongoing needs and ultimately empower the next generation of local decision-makers.
Future educational opportunities will be influenced by the strength of its partnerships, funding, and adherence to the mission of providing food and choice.
Underscoring each of these pillars is the value of dignity, which is demonstrated through elevating accessibility and choice. Customizing programs to fit the needs of each school district, partnership, and, ultimately, the child is the leading edge of Project FEED. Rather than simply delivering food to any willing participant through dignity, Project FEED aims to reach each child, no matter where they are or what they are experiencing, with the right food and context. It means viewing the whole scope of unmet needs and recognizing that food is only part of the solution. Strengthening partnerships and educational touchpoints must be part of FMP's role and response.
By the end of 2023, every school district in 14 counties served by FMP will have received an offer to begin a conversation regarding direct programming for its youth. Counties include Barron, Buffalo, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, Pepin, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, Trempealeau, and Washburn. School districts with existing childhood hunger direct programming with FMP include Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, and will also be contacted to discuss any changes or new programming needed. Concurrent with the exploratory outreach process to every school district, programs will be launched as partnerships are identified at school districts or other appropriate avenues. This will require program design, training time, staffing, delivery provision, and funding.
Because of the scale of this project, identifying roadblocks and working to eradicate them will be necessary to ensure Project FEED can continue to grow and meet the needs of youth into the future.
Are you interested in helping start a Project FEED program in your school district or county? Visit this page to learn more and/or contact our Partnership Manager, Tami Syverson (email@example.com)