COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL)— For more than a year now, two local nonprofit organizations have been working together to fight food insecurities students see at home.
Community Schools United, a United Way initiative and national strategy, works to target high need schools in our area.
“Community schools always tries to meet the needs of the whole child. And so, we know that children have a lot of needs outside of academic and they bring a lot of baggage to school with them. One of those needs is food insecurity,” Community School Director, Sidney Houck, tells WRBL.
Currently, they serve three schools in Muscogee County and one in Russel County: Brewer, Dorothy Heights, Martin Luther King Jr., and Phenix City Elementary Schools. Community Schools United first started their partnership with The Food Mill about a year ago.
“Our partnership with the schools really helps us to engage with the children that are in our Farm to School program, but also allows us to bring in the parents and the caregivers to give them that access,” Executive Director of The Food Mill, Olivia Amos said.
Last week, The Food Mill’s Mobile Market set up shop outside of Brewer Elementary School, kicking off their monthly rotation of visiting all four Community Schools.
“The Food Mill’s Mobile Market is one of the ways that The Food Mill is addressing the root causes of nutrition insecurity. And that really means there’s a lot of people in the Columbus community that have lack of access to fresh produce,” Amos said. “This allows us to be able to get outside of the North Highland community where The Food Mill is located and into other areas of Columbus, that experience that lack of access.”
“Brewer Elementary School is located in a food desert. So, bringing that food and those resources to the school is one way that we seek to address the need of food insecurity,” Houck shared.
They’re eliminating a step. Parents can shop locally grown, discounted, fresh food, right from the school pick up line.
This partnership is just one of the ways Community Schools United is working to improve attendance and engage family members. Houck says beyond providing produce, the relationships built has a lasting impact.
“Response over the past school year to our Mobile Market has grown, and we’ve seen that in attendance. Showing up being and consistent with the resources that we’re bringing in and the offerings that we have to the school has been tremendous,” Houck said. “We’re able to meet them outside, but then bring them into the school building where they meet with our Community School coordinator, where we’re able to explore more about what they have going on with their family and meet the needs of the whole child.”
The support doesn’t stop there, Brewer Elementary School hosts The Food Mill’s ‘Cooking Matters’ class. Their free classes provide families with the tools to prepare the produce they take home.
“We’re really trying to engage children at an early age, teaching them how to eat and help them help healthier manner, the right foods to choose in order to really nourish their body,” Amos said. “This also helps us to bring the parents and caregivers into that by providing that affordable access to the fresh produce right here at the school, making it very convenient for them, reducing those barriers of transportation.”
This year they’re planning on hosting the classes closer to school dismissal.
“They can bring their entire family in, and they can get a free meal while they’re here,” Brewer Elementary School Principal, Patricia Woodall said. “With that, it helps our school environment and climate, because parents want to come in and they want to volunteer, and they want to help us in the garden. And that gets them more involved in their children’s lives.”
The Food Mill also helped Brewer Elementary School start their garden, where students can grow produce used in those cooking classes.
“They came in, they made donations to Brewer. We now have a working garden area out in our courtyard. The Food Mill came in and they’re like, ‘let’s work with your families about how to cook. Because, you know, we can give out free stuff all day long, but if you don’t know how to prepare it, then it doesn’t do any good,'” Woodall shared. “So, we’ve offered a ‘Cooking Matters’ class that’s free for our family, and they come once a week, and we have someone come in and teach them about new nutrition.”
Woodall went on to say this garden helps students improve their social-emotional skills.
“We expose at risk children to those classes because they don’t always know where food is coming from. They actually take care of the plants, harvest the plants and do things with plants and nutrition and cooking,” Woodall shared. “For the students, it’s all part of social and emotional mental health, working together. These are all life skills that children and adults need to have. They learn how to work as a team to grow stuff or take care of stuff, or if it gets a disease, they’ve got to go do some research and figure out what’s going on and what they can do.”
While the gardening is exclusive to Brewer Elementary School students and parents, the Mobile Market and The Food Mill’s ‘Cooking Matters’ class is open to the public. Attached below is the remainder of 2023’s Mobile Market schedule for Community Schools.
Oct. 11, 2 p.m.: Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School
Oct. 13, 2:30 p.m.: Phenix City Elementary School
Oct. 18, 2 p.m.: Dorothy Heights Elementary School
Nov. 1, 2 p.m.: Brewer Elementary School
Nov. 8, 2 p.m.: Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School
Nov. 10, 2:30 p.m.: Phenix City Elementary School
Nov. 15, 2 p.m.: Dorothy Heights Elementary School
Dec. 6, 2 p.m.: Brewer Elementary School
December 8, 2:30 p.m.: Phenix City Elementary School
Dec. 13, 2 p.m.: Martin Luther King Jr Elementary School
Dec. 16, 2 p.m.: Brewer Elementary School
Dec. 20, 2 p.m.: Dorothy Heights Elementary School
For more information on the ‘Cooking Matters’ class, contact The Food Mill.