September 8, 2021
You might have fond memories of your own school lunch experience: gathering with friends in the cafeteria, lining up with your tray to receive your favorite daily special, swapping snacks with classmates. For many children, school lunch is more than a welcome break from lessons; it’s also a guaranteed meal every weekday. When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools, 30 million kids who relied on school meals lost this essential service.
This fall, many students are returning to the classroom and the cafeteria for the first time in over a year. At the same time, Congress is finally undertaking a long-overdue process called Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Read on to learn how the nonprofit organization FoodCorps is working to ensure kids get the healthy food and nutrition education they need at school, how Thrive Market is supporting their efforts, and what you can do to help.
School is more than a place to study reading, writing, science, and math; it’s also where children learn about the importance of nutrition and, under the best circumstances, begin to form lifelong healthy habits.
The nonprofit organization FoodCorps, with whom we’re partnering to raise $10 million in healthy groceries, is on a mission to connect kids with healthy food in schools. They do this via their nationwide network of service members, who work with educators to develop programming and resources aimed at developing healthy habits in kids. That can include everything from school gardens and cooking lessons to legislation that seeks to improve the quality of school meals.
Through our Food Equality Now initiative, Thrive Market has worked with FoodCorps to provide memberships for 10,000 families and fund healthy food education for 6,000 children in the Mississippi Delta region, an area that faces systemic challenges to healthy food access. This fall, we’ll donate healthy groceries to all of FoodCorps’ 200 service members nationwide.
“We are thrilled to continue our work with Thrive Market as yet another uncertain school year kicks off,” says Laura Hatch, Senior Director of Policy & Partnerships at FoodCorps. “Our shared commitment to ensuring that children across the country have access to nourishing food makes this partnership extremely powerful.”
The 2021 back-to-school season has special significance, and FoodCorps is seizing the opportunity to make a difference on an even larger scale. In partnership with the National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, FoodCorps is urging policymakers to support Child Nutrition Reauthorization, a process in which lawmakers review and update all laws concerning child nutrition programs. The process usually occurs every five years, but due to political disagreements, it’s been 10 years since these laws were last updated.
FoodCorps and its partners, including Thrive Market, are working to build support for four new marker bills that will further its mission to connect kids with healthy food in schools:
This bill would create more positions for food educators in public schools, ensuring greater access to food and nutrition education for kids and communities throughout the country. Co-authored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the bill was partially inspired by FoodCorps’ 10 years of experience in on-the-ground food education.
This bill would triple funding and increase equitable access (particularly among beginner, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers, as well as racially diverse and high-need student populations) to the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, which empowers children to learn about where their food comes from.
This bill would simplify the process of obtaining locally grown and sourced ingredients for school meals. Sourcing local food not only benefits students by encouraging healthy eating, but also invests dollars in local communities and supports farmers and other food producers.
The kitchen equipment in school cafeterias is often outdated. This bill would provide the necessary funding for schools to upgrade their kitchen equipment, improve their infrastructure, and train their staff in order to prepare fresh, healthy meals for students.
“The pandemic has illustrated the vital role of school meals in nourishing our nation’s kids, especially those most impacted by systemic racism and classism,” Hatch says. “FoodCorps and Thrive Market are proud to support these four bills, which together will impact kids’ school nutrition experiences for years to come.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched every aspect of American life, including access to healthy food, which is projected to affect 42 million people in 2021. Kristin DeSimone, Thrive Market’s Mission Manager, explains that closing the food inequality gap—which has increased significantly since the pandemic began—has never been more urgent or essential.
“We set up our Food Equality Fund to support communities and families most impacted by food inequality,” she explains; these include single-parent households and BIPOC communities. “We partner with select nonprofit organizations that are on the ground and authentically connected to these groups.” The two main areas of focus for Food Equality Now, DeSimone says, are helping improve access to healthy groceries for those in need and funding healthy living education. “FoodCorps has consistently been a leader in the healthy food education and advocacy space, and we’re so honored to be able to work with them.”
Since launching Food Equality Now in 2020, our 1-million-member community has raised $625,000 in healthy groceries and supported more than 20,000 families in need. In addition to our work with FoodCorps, we’ve partnered with Baby2Baby to support thousands of children and families in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Texas, and New York City. This spring, we worked with Jaden Smith’s nonprofit, 501CTHREE, to provide healthy groceries to 800 families in Flint, MI.
Want to join the fight to close the food inequality gap? Here are a few ways to get involved:
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