Fueling Healthy Minds: Go Back to School with FoodCorps and Thrive Market 

Last Update: August 31, 2023

We’ve all been there: you’re sitting at your desk, trying to focus on the task in front of you, but all you can think about is your growling stomach. The chips and soda you grabbed from the convenience store this morning haven’t held you over as well as you’d hoped, and you have no idea what’s for lunch. You want to pay attention to your work, but you’re too hungry.

More than 9 million children faced hunger in 2021 — that means 1 in 8 children went hungry at some point in the year. School breakfasts and lunches aim to close the nutrition gap; for many kids, school meals comprise half the calories they’ll eat in a day.

But because of barriers like limited fresh food in historically excluded communities, the headache of registering for free school meals, and the longstanding stigma behind school food, too many kids still aren’t getting the nourishing meals they need to grow and thrive. These are issues that FoodCorps aims to change, alongside their school and community partners. The nonprofit organization supports kids’ wellbeing through nourishing food in schools, and their network of service members teach kids about food through hands-on learning in classrooms and gardens. FoodCorps also works to shape local and national policies that help ensure all kids have access to nourishing food.

How FoodCorps and Thrive Market Partner to Fight Childhood Hunger

This year marks our third year partnering with FoodCorps to help support their important, life-changing work in schools. Thanks to our members’ generous donations at checkout to our Thrive Gives program and Food Equality Now campaign, we’ve been able to support 17,500 children’s access to healthy food and food education.

Our partnership began in Mississippi and Arkansas, two of FoodCorps most in-need states. Starting in 2023, we’ve expanded our coverage to include FoodCorps’ programs in Newark, New Jersey. According to Feeding America, 812,440 people in New Jersey are facing hunger, and 197,280 of them are children — that means 1 in 10 children face hunger daily. Additionally, New Jersey’s rate of food insecurity among Black and Latine residents is more than five and a half times that of white residents, at 17% versus 3%. To date, we’ve supported 1,500 kids in New Jersey through our partnership with FoodCorps, and we’re just getting started.

Stories from the Site: How FoodCorps Educators Are Changing Kids’ Relationships with Food

From getting hands-on with gardening to conducting fresh vegetable taste-tests and even serving up culturally relevant foods, FoodCorps educators are inspiring a new generation of kids to appreciate healthy eating and look at food in a whole new way. We spoke to a few FoodCorps educators and the kids they serve about some of their more memorable lessons.

State: New Jersey
School: Greater Newark Conservancy
Educator: Bridgette Byrd
Topic: Cafeteria Taste Test

“This week at AVON Avenue School students in third through fifth grades enjoyed their first cafeteria taste test promoting salad with harvested lettuces. My message for the students during the tasting was centered on ‘Conscious Consumption,’ so students understand the benefits of composting and food waste reduction in the lunchroom.

Students arrived for lunch surprised when they saw their cafeteria transformed into a display of beauty and nutritious tastings. To make things easier, I informed every student that they would get a chance to taste the items on display and NO ONE would be left out. One student in the 4th grade class asked, Is this free, do we have to pay for it? When I informed them it’s a free taste test and no payment was required, they were so happy.

During the serving, I didn’t ask what they wanted from the ingredient selection, I simply put all ingredients on the plate: 6 variations of lettuce, red onion, cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots, served with several varieties of dressing. Once they received a sample, they learned the tomatoes and lettuce were harvested from the Hawthorne Avenue Farm and grown locally right in their town. Students came back for seconds and couldn’t wait to cast their votes about the taste testing. I felt the overall turnout for the day was filled with complete joy, and the students wanted to see fresh vegetables as a menu option.” —Bridgette

Quotes from the kids: 

“This salad is so fresh and bright!”

“I’m going to ask my parents to buy cucumbers at home.”

“When are you coming back?!”

State: Arkansas
Site: Springdale School District
Educator: Julia Nall
Topic: Hands-on Food Education and Gardening

“I’ve been doing a lesson with kale chips since a local nonprofit started donating kale to our students (and because kale chips are awesome!) They are a HUGE hit. A teacher (who has a kindergarten daughter who got the kale lesson) told me at the staff meeting this week that her daughter has been asking for kale all week, and has been sad that she hasn’t been able to eat more kale because of recent dental work. I sent her a couple kale smoothie recipes, made sure she got a bag when we got our kale donation, and her daughter is thrilled to have kale access once more.” —Julia

Feedback from the kids:

“I told my dad about the kale chips, he learned how to make them and we had them last night! They were so good!”

“These taste like potato chips, but better! They are blowing my mind!”

“I never tried kale before, and I love it!”

State: Maine
Site: St. Mary’s Nutrition Center
Educator: Eliza Guion
Topic: Culturally Relevant Food

“We did a Bariis taste test [a traditional rice dish from Somali cuisine] and it went really really well. We got the recipe from our coworker — and amazing chef — Mumina Isse, who is originally from Somalia. We practiced making the recipe with her, and then we made it together in the school kitchen the day before the taste test. The feedback from the kids was really sweet. It was really gratifying to see how it affected our Somali and east African students, and regardless of culture, almost everyone enjoyed it!” —Eliza

Feedback from the kids:

“Tastes like my mom’s.”

“I like it because you made something for our culture.”

State: Georgia
Site: Wylde Center
Educator: Ernie Stedman
Lesson: Hands-on Food Education and Gardening

“I made guacamole dip and served it with cucumber and pepper slices at a taste test at Toomer Elementary. Jayla, a fourth grader at Toomer, was a huge fan of the guacamole and asked me what was in it. I pointed to the recipe card and told her: avocados, tomatoes, onions, lemon juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper. Her eyes opened wide with surprise and she said, Are you telling me I’m eating onions and tomatoes right now?! I do NOT like onions or tomatoes, but this is so good!” —Ernie

What’s Next in Our Fight for Food Equality?

Democratizing healthy living has always been central to our mission at Thrive Market, which is why we started our Food Equality Now fund. In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the disparities many people face when accessing healthy food in the U.S., we set an ambitious goal to raise $10 million by 2025 to fight food insecurity. Earlier this year, we announced that we met our goal a whole two years early. To date, we have raised over $11 million to give access to healthy groceries to those in need.

This month, we announced a new goal to raise $20 million and support healthy food access and education for millions of people in need by 2030. Want to help us reach this goal? All you have to do is donate a portion of your order savings at checkout.

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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