Since our founding, we have felt the responsibility to continue to grow and reach more children, and we are fortunate to have a community so ready and willing to join us in the attack on childhood hunger. Inspiring a region-wide movement means our team and leadership volunteers are constantly having conversations with new people about Kids’ Food Basket, why we do what we do, and the complex issues surrounding childhood hunger. Our primary goal remains making sure that children are receiving the nourishment they need to learn and live well, but we believe it is equally important to help our community understand issues that cause hunger to be the issue that it is today.
According to the Food Research and Action Center: “Food security is a term used to describe what our nation should be seeking for all its people – assured access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life, with no need for recourse to emergency food sources or other extraordinary coping behaviors to meet basic food needs. In a nation as affluent as ours this is a readily achievable goal. Food insecurity refers to the lack of access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. There are different levels of food insecurity.”
Kids’ Food Basket serves dozens of schools in Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland. Participating schools have 70% or more of students receiving free or reduced priced lunch and/or breakfast. If your school is served but your child is not, please contact the administration at your school. If Kids’ Food Basket does not or can not serve a school and there is an immediate need, we recommend you utilize the United Way’s 211 help line.
Kids’ Food Basket understands that poverty is complex and we are dedicated to identifying a community solution to childhood hunger to meet the needs of all communities. Communities interested in receiving services may contact Kids’ Food Basket to inquire about services and resources.
Thousands of West Michigan children are food insecure — they can’t count on having access to good, nourishing food every day. 1 in 5 kids in West Michigan are affected by hunger. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2015, the following numbers are based on 2013 child food insecurity data by county & congressional district:
- In Kent County, approximately 25,470 children are food insecure, or 16.1%
- In Muskegon County, approximately 8,870 children are food insecure, or 21.4%
- In Ottawa County, approximately 9,590 children are food insecure, or 14.0%
Map the Meal Gap is a community level analysis directly related to the need for food. The analysis estimates food insecurity at a county and congressional district level. The data reflects major known determinants of the need for food, such as unemployment and poverty. The model estimates food insecurity by examining the relationship between food insecurity and unemployment, poverty and other factors.
School officials provide Kids’ Food Basket with the number of children at their site that they know are living in food insecure households. Often, children self-report that they have not eaten since yesterday at school. In addition, teachers, nurses and social workers recognize the signs of poor nutrition, which include listlessness, low energy, below normal growth, pale complexion, circles under their eyes and poor concentration. Parents also have the opportunity to opt-in. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
About 30% of the food provided in the Sack Supper is obtained from Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank (formerly Second Harvest Gleaners). Their food items are $0.16 per pound. 40% of the food provided comes from area grocery stores or food vendors. The other 30% is received through food drives and the generous support of our community.
Kids’ Food Basket is funded by the generosity of individuals, foundations, corporations and community organizations. Kids’ Food Basket does not receive any funds from Federal, State, County or City Governments. Funds raised are designated to their respective Kids’ Food Basket programs.
The growth of Kids’ Food Basket could not have happened without the energy and support of thousands of volunteers. Join us at Kids’ Food Basket headquarters to pack and deliver Sack Suppers — it is truly a community effort! Kids’ Food Basket has a small paid staff, including executive director Bridget Clark Whitney, who has been with the organization since its inception in 2002. Click here to meet the whole team. In addition to our staff, Kids’ Food Basket is guided by an active and amazing founder, Mary K. Hoodhood, and a supportive board.
During the summer, Sack Suppers are distributed within summer school or local park programs. In the summertime, we focus on providing ready–to-eat, nutritious meals and are dedicated to safety, direct service, and consistency. We follow the kids that we are serving during the summer months to maintain a consistency of program (i.e. if the majority of the kids at a certain school attend a Vacation Bible School in the neighborhood, we try to partner with them to serve there).
While we do not serve Sack Suppers on the weekends, we do serve Break Bags during winter and spring breaks. Break Bags include non-perishable food items in addition to some of our normal Sack Supper foods, as well as a toothbrush and toothpaste. We began serving Break Bags based on consistent feedback from schools and families that school breaks present a challenge to parents who rely on the breakfast and lunch provided at school.
Some of the schools that we serve additionally have weekend “backpack” programs that provide food for families via backpack on Friday afternoons, or food trucks that provide families with food after school hours.
We partner with school staff and teachers to help distribute Sack Suppers at the end of the school day. Families sign up for Sack Suppers at the beginning of the school year, or when a student enrolls in school, via an Opt-In Form. From the Opt-In Forms, schools keep track of which children in a classroom receive Sack Suppers.
We have heard of extreme situations where children who receive Sack Suppers are compelled to share their meal with family members or siblings who are also experiencing hunger. If the school finds out that the child has to share consistently with younger siblings, they let us know so we can provide that child with an extra meal to take home.
There are a variety of valuable programs that play a part in attacking childhood hunger. However, Kids’ Food Basket is the only anti-hunger organization dedicated to attacking childhood hunger in these distinctive ways:
- Scale: During the school year, Sack Suppers are distributed to dozens of schools and distributed directly to kids in a way that is accessible for them.
- Nutrition: Each Sack Supper is a well-balanced, ready-to-eat meal containing a serving of protein, fruit, vegetables, and a healthy snack.
- Consistency: Each weekday kids can count on receiving a Sack Supper.
If kids are unable to attend school due to a snow day, we are incapable of reaching them in a way that is safe for volunteers and kids. Unused Sack Suppers can often be used the next day if it’s Monday-Thursday, and are donated to other nonprofits that can use it on Fridays.
Kids’ Food Basket believes that all children deserve good nutrition. We often hear stories of kids sharing their Sack Supper with siblings, and have always made accommodations to serve a sibling when the need has been brought to our attention.
We specifically serve elementary-aged children because of how rapidly their brains and bodies are developing. If a child experiences consistent food insecurity and a lack of good nutrition, their brain might not fully develop and that development (or lack thereof) is irreparable past the age of twelve. It is not that we don’t care about parents or middle and high school youth, but we asked ourselves: ”Where can we make the greatest impact today?” and the greatest, long-term impact is going to be made by investing in elementary aged children because of how rapidly they are developing and how critical consistent access to good nutrition is for that development.
The schools we serve have an average student population of 70% or more of students who are eligible to receive free or reduced-cost school breakfast and lunch. We do this to ensure we are making the most impact where we can first. We have a number of schools on our waiting list at any given time. We also know that there are schools with maybe only 50% of the student population qualifying for that free or reduced-cost school lunch, which is still an immense need. Once we can serve all of the schools on our immediate wait list, a strategy to reach these other schools will be considered.
Kids’ Food Basket is dedicated to expanding our critical Sack Supper services in our current locations by working to serve additional schools through the continued growth of advocacy partners and the development of weekend hunger response programing.
Additionally, we are growing our existing satellites to serve more meals and reach more children in need. Through the continued development of Kids’ Supper Club, we are sharing our knowledge, tools, experiences, and connections to benefit children everywhere.
Hunger is a symptom and a cause of poverty — and should not be a barrier to success. Knowing the Sack Supper is within reach meets a critical, long-term need: it reduces the toxic stress of food insecurity. Educators see that students that depend on healthy meals come to school more motivated to attend school, and when nourished, are not sick as often, reducing absenteeism. By fueling healthy development, we are supplying our next generation of leaders with the nutrition the need to learn and live well, which builds a more vibrant West Michigan.
In addition to Sack Suppers, we provide programming like our Kids Helping Kids civic engagement lesson plan series, which also combats the effects of childhood hunger by providing the youth we serve with the opportunity to grow as leaders and create change in their own communities. We know that while 1 in 5 kids experiences hunger, 5 in 5 can help change that.
Our Sack Suppers are, without a doubt, important in the lives of our kids and families, and so are local food pantries, services like Feeding America food trucks, community gardens, and nutrition educators. Poverty is complex. Our families are typically affected by more than just food insecurity. We meet immediate critical needs with our Sack Suppers and we also need organizations that do work like corner store reform, lobbying at the state and national levels for legislation that encourages universal access to food, and in other areas such as housing, transportation, and employment. Together, we are working to build a more vibrant, equitable West Michigan.
A recent study from the Food Research and Action Center (2015) actually found that “those from low food secure […] were significantly more likely to be overweight than their counterparts from high food secure households.”
People affected by food insecurity and low incomes can be especially vulnerable to obesity because of the unique challenges they often face, including:
- Limited resources
- Lack of access to healthy, affordable foods
- Cycles of food deprivation and overeating
- High levels of stress, anxiety, and depression
- Fewer opportunities for physical activity
- Greater exposure to marketing of obesity promoting products
- Limited access to health care
Studies show that brain damage caused by even mild under-nutrition is irreparable by age 12. For that reason, Kids’ Food Basket is currently focused on serving school-age kids when they are vulnerable, between the ages of 5-12. We do serve at several early childhood centers, to reach children when they are most vulnerable and in need of good nutrition, between birth and five-years-old. We don’t currently serve children outside the school system because our model is based on direct service.
We specifically serve elementary age children because of how rapidly their brains and bodies are developing. If a child experiences consistent food insecurity and a lack of good nutrition, their brain might not fully develop and that development (or lack thereof) is irreparable past the age of twelve. It is not that we don’t care about parents or middle and high school youth, but we asked ourselves, “Where can we make the greatest impact today?” and the greatest, long-term impact is going to be made by investing in elementary aged children because of how rapidly they are developing and how critical consistent access to good nutrition is to that development.
Food insecurity is a daily reality for about one in five kids. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is a federal aid program administered by the USDA that provides food assistance to low- or no-income Americans. In 2014, the typical US household spent $50 per person per week for food. The same year, the average monthly snap benefit per person was $125.35 or $29.25 per week. SNAP benefits do not typically make ends meet for the entire month – this usually leads to buying calorie-dense, nutritionally low foods.
SNAP benefits are usually received based on how many individuals are in your home, your ability to work, and the type of job you do have if currently employed. The Sack Supper may be a supplement to these SNAP benefits so a family can choose to purchase more nutritionally valuable, yet expensive, foods such as fruits and veggies for other meals throughout the day and on weekends. It may also serve as a necessary tool for parents who work second shift, or get home late from work. When a Sack Supper comes home with a child, neither the child nor the parent have to worry about when or if the child eats, reducing stress in the household and allowing the child to focus on getting homework done and being a kid.
We know 1 in 5 kids is hungry based on food insecurity data for all three Kids’ Food Basket locations. The information for the statistic is based on a national study from Feeding America called Map the Meal Gap. Kids’ Food Basket highlights food insecurity because although related, food insecurity and poverty are not the same. Poverty in the United States is only one of many factors associated with food insecurity. In fact, higher unemployment, lower household assets, and certain demographic characteristics also lead to a lack of access to adequate, nutritious food. However, we do use Kids Count data as a benchmark evaluating need within particular schools, districts and counties. Outside of statistical data, educators regularly share with us the stories of need in their classrooms.
It is community-level analysis directly related to the need for food. The analysis estimates food insecurity at the county and congressional district level. It reflects major known determinants of the need for food, such as unemployment and poverty. The model estimates food insecurity by examining the relationship between food insecurity and unemployment, poverty and other factors.
This resource strictly measures by students eligible for free or reduced prices in the federal School Lunch Program. Students from families reporting income between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for reduced priced meals, while children from families with incomes below 130 percent of poverty are eligible for a fully subsidized or “free” meal.