For three summers I ventured to Oakland Public Libraries every weekday. One by one, children bearing piles of picture books in their arms, along with parents – often pushing infants in strollers – would gather for the daily Summer Lunch program. Each child received a nutritious meal free of charge. Whether they arrived at the library to read, seek refuge from the season’s heat or escape neighborhood streets, hundreds of low-income children were able to enjoy a yummy, healthy meal free of conditions or judgment.
Since Summer Lunch is a federally regulated program targeting child hunger, parents do not receive food. So they watch; tenderly wiping sloppy joe from their daughter’s cheeks, sweeping their son’s crumbs into napkins and exchanging stories in a myriad of language, laughter, and friendship.
During the program’s final week last year, a young boy approached me after finishing his meal. He asked whether I could spare an extra lunch – but not for himself. He explained that his father would soon head to work and this meal – each serving of greens, bread, milk and sandwich apportioned for a small child – would otherwise be Dad’s only nourishment for the remainder of the day. Saying “no” was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever had to do.
That’s where remarkable programs like Morgan Stanley’s Healthy Cities enter the picture – funding initiatives that combat hunger as a household problem, acknowledging its effect not only on individuals, but on the shared prosperity and health of whole neighborhoods. As one of three leading grantees in the program nationwide, Alameda County Community Food Bank has engaged a network of health providers, libraries and schools to collectively address health and hunger issues among low-income and underserved children and their families.
Because no child should have to face hunger, let alone witness it burdening their loved ones.
One Program, 60,000 Meals So Far
Healthy Cities has allowed us to pursue sustainable solutions that empower the community with health and hunger-relief resources for years to come. Through Morgan Stanley funding, we have coupled Summer Lunch with our mobile pantry program. While children enjoy meals in the library, parents can “shop” – free of charge – from our mobile pantry truck stationed just outside and return home with a 30-pound bag full of farm-fresh produce and healthy staples for the entire family.
We’ve also been able to significantly expand our school-based mobile pantries, doubling both the amount of food provided and the frequency of distributions. Even more, Healthy Cities has enabled us to extend our previously elementary-only mobile pantry program to now reach middle and high schoolers – and in the coming months, university and college students, too.
Power in Partnership
Perhaps most importantly, Healthy Cities has gifted us with the resources to forge new collaborations and nurture existing ones. From over 400 diabetes and dental screenings, to nutrition education workshops and peer-to-peer nutritional training among parent volunteers, we’ve integrated a panorama of health partnerships and solutions into our mobile pantry distributions.
Envision a health fair of sorts: after a family receives food from the truck – the main attraction – they can stop by several other stands to consult nutrition experts and healthcare providers; doing everything from watching recipe demos to sitting down for a lesson in dental hygiene (complete with toothpaste, stickers, brochures, and more!).
By widening our breadth of partnerships, Healthy Cities has catalyzed our pursuit of a shift in community culture, one that champions health and nutritious food as fun, invigorating and important parts of everyday life. We’re grateful to have so rapidly enriched our programming, increased our bandwidth, built coalitions and popularized a movement to ensure that Oakland’s children and their families have the resources, skills and habits to live healthy and hunger-free.
*Clarissa Broughton is the agency services and mobile pantry coordinator for Alameda County Community Food Bank