Thursday, July 19, 2012

Combatting Hunger at The Stewpot

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:  

Another way we’d like to fight hunger is to bring the Cooking Matters program to the children and youth who attend Saturday School, and Junior and Venturing Crews.  Cooking Matters is a national nutrition curriculum taught through the North Texas Food Bank (NTFB).  Melissa and I have attended a class and it was awesome- volunteer chefs and registered dietitians come and speak to participants about nutrition, shopping, saving money, and obviously: cooking.  The chef gives an interactive cooking demonstration and serves the dish so that everyone gets motivated to take home their own recipe and free ingredients and make the dish themselves.  Yum.  Incorporating this program into the Child and Youth Program is still in the works.  Melissa and I are also working with the NTFB and City Walk to host a workshop about enrolling in and using WIC and SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps) at the Dallas Farmers Market (DFM).  We’d like the adults who attend our English as a Second Language classes to know about this food assistance program and to have the opportunity to enroll in it.  Enrollment specialists will stay here to help them and a representative of the SNAP at the Farmers Market program will speak about how to use SNAP at the big, beautiful, nearby DFM.  If anyone reading this has a suggestion for other anti-hunger projects, please email me:

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