My name is Kate McDermott and I am working at the Stewpot this summer. Melissa Shirley and I work for the Texas Hunger Initiative (THI), which took us on as AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates and posted us here. There are other AmeriCorps Summer VISTAs working for THI and posted throughout Texas. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger worked to raise and match AmeriCorps applicants with anti-hunger service opportunities (like the ones provided by THI). Altogether Melissa and I report to Suzanne Dwight, THI, and NYCCAH. Clear as mud for us too!
What are we actually working on? Well, a lot of things. We are here because the Summer Day Camp’s lunch and snack program is a Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) site, and it receives money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture so that kids who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches at school don’t go hungry when school is out for the summer. There is a huge need for this, as one out of four children in Texas are reportedly hungry during the summer months. THI focuses on getting volunteers like Melissa and I to provide support to SFSP sites because across the state (and especially in Dallas) there is a gross under-utilization of the USDA's SFSP funds. Something like 13% of the USDA-granted funds were actually used in Texas last summer. The Texas Department of Agriculture has identified the number one breakdown as poor participation among eligible kids. Interestingly, our Summer Day Camp’s SFSP can’t immediately accommodate a major increase in participation. We considered reaching out to other SFSP sites to see if they needed help advertising and recruiting participants. But then we learned, through the THI Food Planning Association, that the major problem in Dallas is that there are too many SFSP sites competing for the same population of kids. This sent us back to the drawing board. Since we are only here for a summer, and the Stewpot already has access to food insecure populations, we decided that in addition to serving meals at our SFSP site and helping Brenda with production reports, we would work to combat hunger in different ways.
One of those ways is to provide research support to the FPC Community Garden Steering Committee. Melissa and I have attended meetings in which we learned about the group’s plans and goals for the garden. It’s tentatively planned for the ground to break in spring of 2013. The garden will be open to downtown Dallas residents, FPC members, Stewpot clients, etc. (everyone). The committee members identified inclusion, education, and environmental stewardship as the major pillars of the community garden. With that we’re helping to develop a mission statement and choose a name- so if you have any ideas, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.