Children shouldn’t have to wonder where their next meal will come from. This is why schools like Parkview, a local elementary school in Grand Rapids, strive to provide as many resources as they can for their students. At Parkview, the need for this is extensive.
Nearly 90% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Sadly, this is not an uncommon rate of necessity in lower income neighborhoods. Parkview’s principal, Katie Jobson, said “we want to make sure that those food needs are satisfied so we’ve done a few things to try to ensure that it is not an obstacle for kids. If they’re focused on food, they’re probably not focused on learning.”
Upon arrival each morning, students find breakfast awaiting them. Teresa Dood, Parkview’s Kent School Services Network community school coordinator said, “they really can’t engage until that initial need has been met.” Imagine how difficult it would be to concentrate on learning with an empty stomach. Most students are then provided with free or reduced lunch. Parkview’s after-school program also opens the cafeteria to prepare dinner for students who attend. Additionally, the school ensures that there are always healthy snacks at the students’ disposal throughout the day.
There are also community organizations that have made it their mission to reduce the risk of these children going hungry. Parkview qualifies for Kids Food Basket’s services. This means that children are not only fed at school, but many of them are sent home with a sack supper each evening. Additionally, Beverly Reformed, a nearby church, sends nonperishable food home with particularly at-risk students each weekend to ensure that they don’t have to go without while they are away from school.
Parkview realizes that youth hunger doesn’t stop when school does. This is why the school has become a Meet Up and Eat Up site when school is not in session. Alongside their summer school program, breakfast and lunch is provided for anyone in the community under the age of 18. Kids’ Food Basket provides a sack supper as well. What all of this boils down to is that these children who would otherwise wonder where their next meal would come from are fed three meals a day, five days a week, for the entirety of the year. Jobson spoke about how this accomplishment has been a collective effort. “Having more resources in the community is an asset. Without community partners, it would be a really overwhelming challenge.”
Feeding America West Michigan has also been an essential resource for Parkview students, families and the surrounding community since February of 2014. Each month, Parkview hosts a mobile pantry for anyone who may be struggling. Beverly Reformed also hosts a mobile pantry that is open to the community each month. Dood said, “we’ve purposefully staggered them in the month so that families could attend both and balance that time out.” When children are going hungry, their parents are likely struggling to nourish themselves as well. Having these resources in place allows families to come together and gives them a chance to thrive. “If we can stabilize families, we hope that that can help our kids be better learners,” Jobson said. We all know it’s hard to be a good student when you’re hungry, but it’s also hard to be a good parent. Dood mentioned that “it’s a boost to our families to be able to say ‘hey, we’re invested in you. We get that life is hard and we want to support you wherever you’re at.’”
Jobson spoke about how she believes the mobile pantries “break down some different barriers in ways that you wouldn’t even expect. The food is a part of it but it’s also a place to bring people together and have conversations and feel like we’re all in this together.”
Providing Parkview students with access to adequate food has proven to be crucial to their academic success and an integral part of their overall health. Jobson continued, “Our test scores, if you compare them to other schools that would have the same number of free and reduced lunch kids, the same kind of racial/cultural makeup, our scores have actually been really good.” She attributes the students’ success to the many community efforts focused on curbing students hunger. “We’re really fortunate that there are supports for kids that would otherwise be hungry,” Jobson stated. Now instead of seeing students seeking or hoarding food, she sees students who have been given a chance to flourish.
Parkview showcases what can be done when community organizations and schools come together to reduce youth hunger. The collective effort can make an immense impact on the well-being of their students and families. Parkview sets a great example and will hopefully pave the way for other schools to follow in their footsteps.
Story written by Molly Kooi, Communications Specialist