Meet my son, Paul.
He’s five years old.
I’m a little tired of referring to him as “Buddy Boy” or just the impersonal “my son,” and besides that, there’s no getting around seeing his name in this post anyway.
The kid deserves some recognition, if I’m allowed to be a proud mommy today.
Paul forfeited gifts at his fifth birthday party (the kids’ version) in favor of food for Kids Food Basket, a local organization that provides sack suppers for school kids who might otherwise go home hungry. Besides that, he willingly (more or less) left his friends playing outside to volunteer to make sandwiches for an entire school.
It was the best part of my year so far.
Paul Volunteers at Kids Food Basket
We washed our hands to get ready to work.Our assignment was to make 85 peanut butter sandwiches, which would feed one entire school’s worth of kids in the program.Just peanut butter on bread; no jelly. It was hard to figure out how thick to make them. At home I would make really thick, delicious sandwiches, but here I felt like I needed to stretch the peanut butter more. ??? We made sandwich after sandwich, hitting our mark of 85 and going beyond on our way to helping feed this many kids:Paul was so highly motivated. He loved spreading the peanut butter on bread, especially since he got to wear gloves so his hands didn’t get sticky. We talked about the fact that some other 5-year-olds would probably eat the sandwich he made, and we prayed for those we were serving from time to time (my “kitchen prayer” in action). After a while, he asked if he could help fill the bags, and the concentration on his face as he got to the end of the line and trucked back to the beginning was truly priceless. He could barely reach into the boxes.
The Contents of the Lunch
How to Feed the World Real Food with Less Waste
I don’t know the answer.
I hate that.
At one point while spreading peanut butter on the outside of a heel of bread, I said, “This is almost unethical for me,” referring to making white bread sandwiches with hydrogenated fat peanut butter. *hair stands on end* It was hard to think about feeding kids food I knew was bad for them.
The alternative, though, is letting kids dig through the dumpster for food after school, which is what one principal found her students doing that inspired the creation of Kids Food Basket in the first place.
Sometimes you have to take what you can get.
Real foodies have a hard time finding items to purchase for non-perishable food donations. See this post for some ideas. I had so many conflicts of interest while trying to navigate the choices, especially knowing that kids and only kids were going to eat the food.
My guilt was high as I chose some cheese and crackers packages, and I couldn’t bring myself to even consider the applesauce with high fructose corn syrup at the dollar store. I looked at 100% juice boxes and noticed some cartons of milk nearby. I knew, since they were being sold on a shelf, that they were ultra-high-temperature pasteurized. What was the lesser of the two evils? UHT non-organic milk or 100% juice? I decided to go with the milk for the protein aspect, vs. the relative lack of nutritional value (in my book) of fruit juice, especially apple juice.
I also started to think about the waste of single serving packages, and especially of the plastic spoons I was asked to purchase, knowing that most of the children would be eating the meal at home. I understand packing the “whole meal” though. What if there’s not a clean spoon in the home? It’s important that these kids are given dignity along with dinner, and they don’t need any reminders that the food and financial situation in their house is so dismal.
Is the Purpose “Full” or “Nourished”?
The question of hungry people being “full” vs. being “nourished” is a tangled one, and there’s no easy answer. As much as I wish I could have been making roasted organic chicken and raw cheese sandwiches on soaked whole wheat bread with homemade mayo…that’s just not going to happen. The donations that come in, from private individuals and other organizations like Gleaners or America’s Second Harvest, simply must be used, and when white bread is all you have, you just feed the children.
I was told that this year, they’re serving a lot more fruits and vegetables, which I was really excited to hear.
On the flip side, even that isn’t probably as positive as it sounds. I kept wondering how many of the little baggies of cherry tomatoes in that day’s meals found their final resting place in the trash can, along with the cucumbers from the day before. How many kids will eat a random bag of vegetables, with no dip, especially when it’s likely their parents aren’t going to make them?
Speaking of those plastic baggies, I also couldn’t help thinking, “My Plastic-Free Life would have a heart attack if she could see this.”
We used lots and lots of plastic bags, but what is the alternative? A charitable organization can’t spend the extra money on waxed paper bags, and that would still create a mountain of waste, and you can’t give the kids reusables because you’d never get them back, and how would you keep them straight if you could?
The joy I felt in volunteering was tempered by all these not-nutritious and not-eco-friendly considerations.
A Well-Oiled Machine
The feat of serving over 2500 kids a sack supper every weekday is an incredible one, especially for a grassroots non-profit organization like Kids Food Basket that was only serving four schools and a few hundred kids six years ago when I got involved with them. Their facility is a small one, with lunchbag food tucked into every corner.
Paul was thrilled to get to sign his name
The director also shared with us some thank you letters from some of the kids they serve:
This reminded me that the school teachers can make a big impact on their students’ nutrition, and I bet they’re reminding the kids to eat their vegetables. “Delicious vegetables!” Doesn’t that just warm your heart!?
If you’re in the Grand Rapids area, here’s how you can get involved with Kids Food Basket:
I’m proud that 85 kids had a sack dinner because of our volunteer efforts, and I pray that the tomatoes and bananas got as much face time as the PB sandwiches and granola bars. I’m really, really proud of my son Paul, who had a fabulous experience his first time volunteering, and wore his new T-shirt for the next two days.
Donations to food banks are notoriously low this time of year (summer), so I want to encourage you to find one in your community and think of the hungry with a gift of some sort this month. What will you bring? Is it possible to feed hungry people nourishing foods, or at least something closer to real food than the cheapest peanut butter on white bread?
What do you think? How do we change the paradigm of cheap food for the hungry?
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.
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