As many as 9 million children across the United States experience food insecurity, meaning that 1 in 8 children live in food-insecure households. However, many fail to realize that childhood hunger affects our community. “Food Deserts,” or areas where affordable healthy food isn’t easily accessible, are found right here in West Michigan. “I actually live in a food desert in Grand Rapids,” says Kids’ Food Basket (KFB) Community Development Specialist Kyle Szucs, “and have seen this played out in my community.” Szucz explains that while paying bills, working multiple jobs, and balancing other factors such as transportation and education, many parents can’t afford the time or money needed to obtain nutritious food. Without proper nutrition, students can experience poor performance in school, lack of energy, development of chronic health issues, or long-lasting behavioral problems. Childhood hunger is a cruel feedback loop, where hunger early on can lead to poverty later in life.
Kids’ Food Basket, a local organization in West Michigan, has recognized the problem and is ardently working to create a solution. The mission of KFB, outlined by Szucs, is to provide children with the nutrition needed to realize their full potential. Access to healthy food betters children mentally and physically, allowing them to break the cycle of poverty and uplift the whole community. “This mission has resonated with me since day one,” asserts Szucs, “and I believe that healthy food is a right, not a privilege for everyone.” Kids’ Food Basket is relieving childhood hunger through its Sack Supper program, providing children who experience food instability with evening meals packed in fun, decorated bags.
However, Kids’ Food Basket can’t accomplish this hefty assignment all on its own: high school students across West Michigan help create change. Kids’ Food Basket Club co-president and Forest Hills Eastern Senior Natalie Mouw says, “KFB allows and encourages students, like those of us at Eastern, to be a part of the solution.” Last year was the first Kids’ Food Basket week; across seven days in March, 17 schools came together and raised over $30,00 worth of food and monetary donations for KFB. One of those participants was Forest Hills Eastern High School, with Eastern’s KFB Club hosting a schoolwide “foodraiser” to collect food items most needed by Kids’ Food Basket. Friday, the last day of the foodraiser, was an orange-out, with all students donning the color of childhood hunger awareness. Natalie explains that the foodraiser was a massive success in terms of getting high school students involved in solving the problem. “By explaining to the school where the food is going and the importance of our cause, students and teachers unite to fight against childhood hunger.”
This year, FHE’s Kids’ Food Basket club has grand plans for a new and improved foodraiser during Kids’ Food Basket’s “Go Orange” week from March 20th-24th. Just like last year, there will be a competition between third-hour classes to see which class can collect the most needed items. Items available to bring in that count for “points” for your class include raisin boxes, fruit cups, pudding cups, and brown bags. KFB T-shirts will again be sold, and a purchase will add to the total points in your third hour. However, a new aspect will be added to this year’s foodraiser: a competition between Forest Hills Eastern, Northern, and Central high schools. Whichever school can raise the most money and food for KFB wins. The prize? Extreme bragging rights. In addition, district-wide Kids’ Food Basket events will be held throughout the week. On Monday Forest Hills Central will host a dodgeball tournament, Tuesday is a donate-to-play Quiz Bowl competition at the Fine Arts Center, Wednesday is a district-wide bag-decorating day, and a cracker competition between grades of the high schools will be on Thursday. Friday is the traditional orange-out and a Kids’ Food Basket assembly.
Szucs says that the large participation in these events, “comes directly from young people and their families deciding that they want to be a part of the solution.” Members of the Kids’ Food Basket Youth Action Board and members of the FHE KFB club, along with students and staff of participating schools, have been firm in their decision to help. Relieving childhood hunger is a daunting task, as well as a task that requires everyone. Fortunately, there are many ways that everyone can contribute to the solution. Through kidsfoodbasket.org you can volunteer at one of three West Michigan locations to either help on the Kids’ Food Basket farm or prepare sack lunches. Donations can also be made on the website or by scanning QR codes that will be displayed on flyers throughout Ada. Supportive action isn’t restricted to just FHPS school district members. “I also want people to know that they can still get involved, even if their school isn’t officially involved.” Says Szucs. “We always need donors. We always need volunteers. We always need advocates.”