Food for Thought leads Children and Families to Healthier Lifestyle by Michelle Boyer and Gary Stevens.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Joseph County is housed in an impoverished area in downtown South Bend, Indiana. The neighborhood is plagued with high crime rates, and has little to offer the children who call the area home.
The District Council members made it their mission to develop a program that would empower both the children living there and their parents.
The St. Vincent de Paul Food for Thought Program works with the South Bend School Corporation and Purdue University Extension Services. The program is intended to enhance educational opportunities for children in second and third grade.
Sessions are held twice a week after school for eight weeks. The children receive a healthy snack and help with their homework.
While much of the focus of the Food for Thought Program is on the students, their families also benefit. Family members are invited to attend monthly cooking classes and family-style dinners. The cooking lessons focus on basic kitchen skills, healthy eating and low-cost meal options. At the end of each meal, families are given a take-home bag filled with the ingredients needed to re-create the meal at home.
In addition to the after school program, Food for Thought also offers summer activities and enrichment camps. These are focused on having fun while reinforcing knowledge learned during the school year and encouraging healthy lifestyle choices.
Children can attend up to three times a week. Each week, the program features a different theme and includes art, science, math, reading, nature and healthy eating.
Perley Fine Arts Academy is located just a few blocks from the SVdP Council headquarters. With their help, the Society was able to determine exactly what their program needed to offer the people in the area.
Perley staff members expressed some of their top desires during meetings with Council members. They had two main needs. The first was supplemental education through homework help and assistance preparing for tests. The other was outreach to families, primarily with making good diet and nutrition choices.
Since its creation in the fall of 2012, Food for Thought has helped dozens of children and families. St. Joseph County District Council Executive Director Anne Watson said, “The program is volunteer-run and the only financial support it receives is grant money to buy the food.”
Although, the current program only serves children in second and third grade, Watson says they are looking toward the future and determining what the next steps will be. “When these kids graduate from elementary school, what can we offer them as junior high kids? What can we offer them as high school kids?” asks Watson. “In five years, I would love to see the kids who started with the program serving as tutors, reinvesting in their own community.”
The Food for Thought program has great potential. Nicole Smith, a family and community specialist at Perley said it best. “It could change a lot of kids’ lives.”
Photos by St. Vincent de Paul Society St. Joseph County