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Service, Partnership Key to Summer Meals Success

Posted by Tony Craddock, Jr., Program Analyst, Food and Nutrition Service in Food and Nutrition
Oct 02, 2015
AmeriCorps VISTA summer associate Michal Elias-Bachrach serving summer meals to children
AmeriCorps VISTA summer associate Michal Elias-Bachrach serves summer meals to children and teens through the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

The following guest blog highlights the partnership between USDA and the Corporation for National and Community Service, which leverages the service-oriented energy of AmeriCorps summer associates to expand and enhance USDA summer meal sites for children in low-income communities.  USDA summer meals fill the hunger gap for the over 21-million children across the country who rely on school meals during the school year.  This blog details the summer associates’ experiences, as narrated by an AmeriCorps VISTA program specialist who was integral to the partnership.

By Mark Wilson, Program Specialist, Corporation for National and Community Service

“Sports, games, nutrition, friends and fun!” is how Andrea Wilkinson described her summer service in Reno, Nev. From June to August, 579 AmeriCorps VISTA summer associates like Andrea served in 42 states and the District of Columbia, making the summer meals program more fun and beneficial for families.

I work for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that manages AmeriCorps VISTA. This year I’ve had the pleasure to watch the service pinpoints on my map grow to their largest number yet, as eager summer associates signed up to help feed children in America’s largest cities and smallest towns in collaboration with USDA’s Summer Food Service Program.

In addition to sports and games, summer associates helped sites fill bellies and brains through education programs like the Boys and Girls Clubs’ Brain Gain. Associates provided hands on help that allowed sites to serve more meals and to inform more families about how summer meals bridge the nutrition gap between school year breakfast and lunch programs.

Summer associates are a supplement to the full year AmeriCorps VISTA program, which taps the skills, talents, and passion of more than 7,000 Americans annually to support community efforts to overcome poverty. Summer associates are a short but powerful injection of talent into AmeriCorps VISTA’s year-long anti-poverty programs.

AmeriCorps VISTA members added capacity to sites serving as few as seven youth daily, as well as to organizations that oversaw meal sites that served up to 4,000 youth. “I worked on outreach, door-to-door and online, and really saw a boost in the numbers in the community,” said Ruth Harbaugh in Seattle. “It's wonderful to connect more families to the service.”

Summer associates also served as a muscle multiplier, helping to bring in donations or to recruit and coordinate other volunteers from their communities.

“Over the summer I have done many things. I have organized and distributed food and supplies to sites, collected and documented hours of workers/volunteers, recruited volunteers, organized fundraisers, and read to kids almost every day,” said Emily Lease, who served as a summer associate in West Virginia. “Of all the tasks I have accomplished, I am most proud of my assistance in teaching a young boy how to read. He tells all his friends he learned to read because a nice girl believed in him. That experience alone was enough to make my summer experience worthwhile.”

The Summer Food Service Program collaboration between the USDA and AmeriCorps VISTA is the result of a 2013 Presidential Memorandum from President Barack Obama on “Expanding National Service through Partnerships.” My teammates and I at the Corporation for National and Community Service could not be more pleased with our efforts with the USDA and are proud of how summer associates nationwide stood up for the call to national service and helped feed children in their communities. Like sports with snacks, breakfast with brain gain, and partnerships with peanut butter, some things go naturally together.

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition