The Delta Opportunity School’s Food for Thought program is feeding a real community need. At the same time, it stimulates student minds with powerful doses of success and self worth.
Every week, about 75 of the 100 students enrolled in District 50’s high-energy alternative school go to work filling backpacks with food items.
At the end of the week, about 150 of the nutrition-laden backpacks are delivered to local elementary and pre-schools and then distributed to students there — children from neighborhoods all over the community who would otherwise face a weekend at home being hungry.
The Opportunity School’s Food for Thought program is helping relieve the life-limiting ache of daily hunger. And, the 100 percent student-staffed and run program is a proving ground that is helping train a next generation of responsible adults. They are learning to create their own successful lives, and to influence the lives of others by building on lessons of self discipline, sound management, and serving others.
The Opportunity School students create the meal plans, compose the shopping lists, develop the budgets, stockpile the supplies, and control the inventory. They find the best possible prices for what they need, and then they do the shopping. They gather the appropriate food items into backpacks destined for kindergartners, fourth graders, pre-schoolers and others.
“This program is all about kids feeding kids,” explain Opportunity School Principal Delaine Hudson and Food for Thought program director Willyn Webb. “We know about similar programs around the state, but as yet we know of no other one that is completely run by students. That is what makes this program unique.”
When kids feed kids, they are giving back and helping make the world a little better. That lesson comes home vividly for two Opportunity School students who have known what it feels like to be a little kid, and to be hungry.
Alex Belleville took a break from helping to fill backpacks for younger children last week and recalled a time when he was “really young.” He remembers going hungry. Now, he’s worked with the Food for Thought program at the school since it got started last year. “It’s a chance to help the younger kids so they might not have to experience what I did,” Alex said.
Student Kira Spraggs came to Delta from Arizona where she recalls while being in middle school, “We went two or three days without food, because we didn’t have the money.” The Opportunity School’s Food for Thought program, part of the Service Learning curriculum, has helped Kira turn her negative experience into a positive one. “I think this is just such a really good thing,” she said. “It makes me feel good that I’m giving something back to the community, and helping my country, too.”
The students at Opportunity School have stocked a well supplied storeroom with hundreds of different food items. Shelves are neatly organized and posted with signs, “Dinner Items,” “Snack Items, ” and so on.
Program director Webb explains how the program name, “Food for Thought,” perfectly expresses its objective. The program’s young clients mostly have breakfast and lunch at their schools during the week. But weekends can bring missed meals. Food for Thought, far from just providing extra nutrition or even staving off hunger pangs during the weekend, helps youngsters remain properly nourished so they are mentally alert when school resumes on Monday. The backpack supplies they receive make it possible for them to return to school on Monday with energy to resume their studies and engage in productive learning, Webb explains.
The Food for Thought program contributes to a vast “ripple effect” of positive consequences that flow through the entire community — from the family breakfast table to the deliberations of community leaders. Because, in addition to the experience of running a food distribution system and feeding hungry kids, the Opportunity School students involved in the program make presentations to local service clubs where they gain experience in public speaking and fund raising for their project.
Opportunity School students will take their fund raising appeal to a new level in the coming year as they offer people in the community the chance to sponsor an individual child in the Food for Thought Program. That produces a broad based buy-in effect that enhances the program’s sustainability, Webb explained.
Food for Thought has received heartening support from the community. Food drives held at other schools in the district netted a bonanza of supplies for the program. There have been absolutely essential in-kind donations, like the backpacks that were sold to the program by a local business at cost. And, cash contributions to the program from individuals, businesses, and service organizations really make it all possible. So far this year almost $3,000 has been raised, a respectable start towards the students’ goal of $10,000 raised.
For an indication of whether the program is having its intended effect of improving the nutrition and learning of young students in the district, look no farther than the abundant and expressive “thank you” letters and notes the school receives. And also there is the Delta grandmother whose elementary school-aged granddaughter was in the program. The grandmother came up during an Opportunity School food drive effort and made a donation herself to the program. That’s really giving back, and then giving back again.
The Food for Thought program got its initial start last year when the Opportunity School won a $17,000 grant. If one good idea leads to another, then the combination of good ideas from the community food bank and from the School District’s existing Backpack Program must have seemed like the perfect foundation for taking on the problem of child hunger at home.
The students at Opportunity School for several years have been developing needed skill sets for their program in a partnership with the Delta Food Pantry. One project of the Service Learning curriculum, Webb explained, has been students providing shelf stocking help at St. Michael’s food bank operation.
The problem of child hunger in Delta County is a real one, Webb says. “It’s a lot bigger than people think. It’s just a fact that sometimes the food stamps don’t reach far enough.”
The students at Delta’s Opportunity School are making those food stamps stretch an all-important little bit farther.
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