Help Fight Hunger During National Nutrition Month

By Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

March is National Nutrition Month, and what better time than now to highlight some of the programs that are tackling the issues of hunger and food insecurity right here in our own backyard. It is alarming to know that 1 in 6 people in the St. Louis metro area struggles with food insecurity—meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Even more alarming is the fact that 172,000 children in St. Louis struggle with chronic hunger and its dire consequences.

Operation Backpack
Operation Backpack, Operation Food Search’s (OFS) weekend feeding program for low-income children who don’t always get enough to eat at home, has grown to serve more than 8,500 children in the 2015-2016 school year. This program provides nutritious food to children every weekend throughout the academic year in 58 schools on both sides of the river to help heal the hurt of hunger that kids experience over the weekend.

When kids are hungry, they can’t concentrate on studying or doing homework, much less thrive. Ensuring that our community’s hungriest children are well-nourished helps them to reach their full academic potential. Each week, a group of dedicated volunteers come to OFS to pack bags with fruits, vegetables, whole-grain cereals, shelf-stable dairy, proteins (canned chicken, tuna, beans), and healthy snacks. The bags of food are then taken to schools in low-income areas for kids to take home on Friday. On Monday mornings, children return to school with focus for academics rather than gnawing hunger.

Nutrition Education
Operation Food Search impacts thousands of people through nutrition education programs. The organization’s Cooking Matters® program empower kids, teens, adults, and families by boosting their skills and confidence to shop for, cook and eat delicious, healthy and affordable meals at home. In the past year, more than 10,100 people were reached through Operation Food Search’s nutrition education programs.

Through food-skills classes, cooking demonstrations, and interactive grocery store tours, people learn: food budgeting, meal planning, and how to select affordable produce, buy whole grains in bulk, incorporate lean proteins, make healthier versions of family favorites, and about the importance of staying physically active every day. Participants in our nutrition outreach programs are educated and empowered to make healthy choices and stretch their food dollars.

Summer Meals and After School Meals
Over the summer months, the average food costs for a low-income family inflate to $300 per month just to provide meals to children when they are out of school. In 2015, OFS mobilized volunteers and community partners to sponsor 72,000 Summer Meals that were served to children at no cost in 7 counties at 47 locations. The At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program helps students get the nutritious meals they need in a safe, supervised site. OFS projects to provide 100,000 after School Meals to kids at no cost by the end of this school year. No kid should ever go hungry. So with help from our donors, community partners and volunteers, Operation Food Search is helping kids receive the healthy food they need to grow and thrive so they can reach their full potential during March’s National Nutrition Month and all year through.

Much more than just a food provider, Operation Food Search’s holistic approach includes nutrition education and other strategies that empower people with important life skills that uphold incorporating a healthy diet as part of one’s lifestyle. To make an online contribution to support Operation Food Search’s child-focused feeding and nutrition education programs, please visit www.OperationFoodSearch.org or call (314) 726-5355 X 17.