USDA – Food For Schools, Food For Kids, and More

Food Corps is an American non-profit organization whose mission is “to work in partnership with local producers to empower them to improve the lives of children and families.” The organization was established in 1965 as a program designed to help feed hungry children through direct marketing and its nationwide network of registered volunteers. With its two hundred member schools, Food Corps works with teachers, administrators, and students to implement a variety of activities that extend a simple solution to a complex problem. Unlike many other service organizations that claim to help, Food Corps has a system for evaluating the effectiveness of their programs in reducing hunger and poverty through an extensive series of tests. In their evaluation, Food Corps not only looks at the numbers and location data, but also looks at how each program helps students The Food Service Director for one school, Eric Studesville, believes that it’s imperative that all teachers at his school participate in the program. “If we’re not doing anything to help the kids in this community,” he explains, “then they’ll go out into the community, they’ll find a job in another town and they’ll end up where they belong – in poverty.” Food Corps provides a great example of how a school food service director can be instrumental in assisting a struggling family in finding a way out of poverty. He sees that teaching and working side by side in a Food Corps program gives teachers a greater understanding and appreciation of nutrition and childhood development.

But there are also more practical reasons why school leaders choose Food Corps for assistance. According to Studesville, Food Corps provides a more diverse menu than the limited food choices available to most public school districts. For example, a recent visit to the Food Corp. warehouse in New York City caught him off guard as he saw rows upon rows of perfectly healthy fruits, vegetables, and even well-fed chickens. As food storage space became more of a challenge, school leaders increasingly turned to Food Corps for a variety of nutritious, low-cost meals for their students.

But the biggest reason why I think Food Corps is so important has nothing to do with helping kids to eat healthy food or even being a good steward of the free enterprise system. The real reasons come in the form of preventing hunger and helping people make long-term decisions about their own health. The other day, I was talking to an acquaintance who’d just graduated from Food Corps and he was very excited about the opportunities that the program offers, especially in terms of financial assistance. He’d just returned from a trip to India where he’d worked with students in a malnutrition-riddled area and was able to provide them with some well-prepared, low-cost meals that had been provided by a private company serving as a subcontractor to Food Corps.

During our conversation, I asked him what the highlight of his trip was, and his answer surprised me. Instead of being interviewed by a Food Corps representative about his experiences in India, he got to talk to other school leaders about how the Indian government was working to improve the nutrition of their children. That’s the one thing that I find kind of ironic, because a few years ago when the school leaders in India sent me to serve on a hunger relief mission, the primary focus of my trip was to visit 100,000 schools in the rural areas of India where children suffered from severe food shortages. What a difference a Food Corps trip makes.

But back to the point. I do believe that Food Corps is very important for two reasons. One, it demonstrates the importance of good nutrition education in America and that is something that can’t be overstated. And two, it illustrates how much the federal government – especially the Department of Agriculture – has learned in recent years to focus on the development of school gardens. In today’s age, that’s not enough – we need to be doing all that we can to ensure that our kids are getting the nutrition education they need, which is why I hope the Food Corps will always have a place at the Department of Education.