31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: #Hunger Doesn’t Take a Winter Break

Yesterday I was doing a little exploring in a new-to-me Billings neighborhood and I drove down a dead-end road on the outskirts of town. There sits, as my friend Ginny Mermel describes it, the “second worst trailer park in town” – muddy roads with thawing snow, dilapidated homes, rusty cars and many young residents based on the school bus just turning around after dropping off students for winter break.

While most children are excited about a two-week vacation with holiday celebrations and presents under the tree, winter break has a whole different meaning for kids who live in poverty. It means two weeks without school meals – two weeks without the guarantee of a hot breakfast and lunch every day. Thanks to my friend and colleague, Virginia ‘Ginny’ Mermel (far left) and the Billings Public Schools BackPack Meals Program, the situation is not as bleak as it could be in our community.

Archie Cochrane Ford donates $2500 to the BackPack Meals Program (May 2014)

Archie Cochrane Ford donates $2500 to the BackPack Meals Program (May 2014)

Ginny received one of the 2014 Hunger’s Hope Award from the Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) in November. In presenting this prestigious award, MFBN noted … “Ginny has the challenging task of feeding very low-income, food insecure students in Billings through school pantries and BackPack programs. Many of the students she serves are emancipated or homeless and rely on the assistance provided through her programs in order to eat. She has steadily expanded the reach and scope of child hunger programs in Billings and the surrounding area while working tirelessly to ensure stable funding and administration for child hunger programs.”

While I see the work of Billings Public Schools BackPack Meals Program and Teen Food Pantry Program personally, I know that thousands of schools and other volunteers work year round to bring healthy food to families in need. Here are two of the many recent Facebook entries that impressed me.

The San Diego (CA) Unified School District Farm to School Program posted this photo on the Friday before their break: “Since today was our last day of school before the 2 week winter break, we donated our leftover fresh produce to 11 San Diego food rescue agencies including Feeding America San Diego, Bayview Charities, various churches, mental health agencies, etc.! Trying to do our part to help those in need.” Rather than letting beautiful produce go to waste, they made sure that it went to those in need.

Produce Donations from San Diego School District

Produce Donations from San Diego School District

In Greensboro, North Carolina, the Guilford County Cooperative Extension School Garden Network had a great idea on December 16tth: “The Donation Station at the curb market at Yanceyville St. was a hub of activity Saturday as shoppers donated mounds of beautiful produce for our food insecure population here in Guilford County. Volunteers Melissa Tinling, FoodCorp service member and Cynthia Nielsen, GCCES School Garden Network Coordinator for Farmer Foodshare.”

Donation Station in Guilford County, North Carolina

Donation Station in Guilford County, North Carolina

It’s not too late to make the holidays better for hungry children in your community. Wherever you live your local donation station is as close as a food bank, food pantry or mission. Confused about what to donate? How about MILK – one of the most requested, least donated food items? You can donate milk directly or through The Great American Milk Drive. Thanks to America’s Milk Companies and Farm Families, you can help fill the milk gap – and have your donation matched gallon-for-gallon. Honestly,  it doesn’t get much better than that!

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