It came on the scene last year to minimal fanfare, but quietlypatiently, at timesFoodCorps is transforming the way kids eat across America. This week marks the one-year anniversary of the kickoff for the national service program, which its leaders describe as a nationwide team of leaders that connects kids to real food and helps them grow up healthy.
Last August, 50 service members fanned out to sites in 10 states to start or assist food-related projects in schools and youth programs. FoodCorps will be in two new states this yearMontana and Connecticutbringing the total to 12 states where the organization has a presence. This week, 80 service members are in training for the second year of programming, with stories of the first years impact pouring in.
In North Carolina and Mississippi, for instance, service members were able to introduce farm-to-school programs in a number schools. On Indian reservations out West, elementary school students learned the basics of nutrition and gardening. Thats just the beginning.
Cofounder and communications director Jerusha Klemperer says that about half of last years service members are returning for a second year of service.
They spent a while laying the groundwork, she says. They were just starting to see the fruits of their labor. A lot of them were excited to keep the momentum rather than pass it off to someone else.
First conceived after President Obama signed the Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009, FoodCorps was officially founded in 2010. As part of the AmeriCorps National Service Network, a third of its funding is federal; the rest is from partners like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, the Woodcock Foundation and individual supporters. Service members, who must be 18 years old and have graduated from high school, are given a $15,000 yearly living allowance, health insurance, and a $5,500 education award at the completion of their service.
Twelve of the returning service members have become fellows for the upcoming year, acting as the lead member in each state and liaison between service members and the media and central office. In addition to their role as liaison, Klemperer says fellows will complete a year-long hands-on or research project that contributes to the three-pillar mission of FoodCorps: Teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from; build and tend school gardens; and bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias.
One of those fellows is 28-year-old Kathleen Yetman, who served the past year in White River, Ariz., on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Partnering with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, Yetman taught a science-based nutrition class to third, fourth, and fifth gradersin the garden. Diet-related illness is rampant at Fort Apache as it is on many Indian reservations, but Yetman served tirelessly the past year to inspire small changes in the people with whom she was working.
When people start eating a little better, they start to feel better and theyll be a little more inspired to make changes in the rest of their life, says Yetman, who will support other service members this next year in her new role as fellow. Growing your own food enages you with the world in a way thats so needed right now. Sharing that with children is so powerful, and thats where the real change is going to come.
Klemperer says the time is right for an organization like FoodCorps because the diet-related problems many young people face have caught the attention of communities that might have been hesitant five years ago.
We have gone into communities who have asked for us, she says. We dont drop in and say, Were here to fix things. Even if this is work that hasnt been done there before, theres a strong will in the community.
Could the children in your community benefit from a program like FoodCorps?