Nutrition (or lack thereof) in school meals remains in the spotlight over the years. Gone are the days when kids had the option of chicken nuggets or a slice of pizza every day after third period — most schools now have at least one healthy option available during school hours.
But eating right at school is just one part of making sure kids are getting the nutrition they need to truly thrive. Eating right starts at home.
However, that doesn’t mean that parents and kids looking to eat right are on their own. Launched in 2012, Food Gatherers’ Healthy School Pantry Program distributes produce and fruit to eight schools around Washtenaw County. Parents can pick up their kids and a selection of fruits and vegetables at the same time.
Area schools are selected for the program because a majority of their students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches.
Providing the produce to schools makes it easy for families to pick up food on their way home. The program is not limited to families whose children are eligible for free or reduced meals; anyone with a child attending a participating school can benefit.
In the words of Eileen Spring CEO and President of Food Gatherers, hosting the program at early education schools where everyone can participate means, “There’s no stigma, which can be a challenge. It really creates a community where people feel more dignified.”
Food Gatherers is limited by how many schools they can reach with the pantry program.
“That can be tricky,” said Spring. “Because there might be a school where 30 percent of the students go through food insecurity, but we just can’t get there.”
Luckily, there are options for families still looking to receive more healthy food. Food Gatherers works with over 150 partners to provide pantry access across Washtenaw County. A full list and locations are available at foodgatheres.org/needfood.
Take it home too
Filling the pantry with fresh and local fruits and vegetables is only part of the Panty Program’s mission — parents need to know what to do with all that food! In addition the program provides low-cost recipe ideas selected by their dietician.
The food available is based of what has been donated and seasonal availability, although the team tries to include a variety of produce in each shipment. This fall, Spring says families can be on the lookout for, “Squash, tomatoes and apples. Variety is key.”
Food Gatherers is always on the lookout for volunteers, to help them reach Washtenaw County’s children. Interested? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For participating schools and to find out more about other programs,