“Poverty is a real barrier to learning. Basically you cannot be successful if you’re hungry on a daily basis,” says Monica Thomas, Principal of the Greenleaf Elementary School in Oakland, California that has shown dramatic improvement in academic performance. According to Thomas, her students have benefitted tremendously from a food bank program at the school. School breakfasts and lunches, and weekend “backpack” programs are often the only nutritious meals some children get each day. And it’s working.
“Our kids are succeeding now when five years ago they were not because of programs like this that attack the basic needs our kids have and allow them to really focus on academics—and will make them lifelong learners,” she adds.
Milk is among the most requested items for food banks, and an essential ingredient for a healthy diet due to its nutrient package such as calcium, protein, potassium and vitamin D—especially for children. But the total dairy products distributed by Feeding America’s network in FY 2012 was only a little over 5.3% of the food they distributed.
“Milk is really important for children,” says Fraser. “Children in this country have a higher risk of food insecurity than adults.”
While one in six Americans is at risk of hunger, for children it’s more than one in five. “Milk and dairy products are extremely essential,” Fraser says.
In a partnership among Feeding America, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and National Dairy Council, founded by America’s dairy farmers nearly 100 years ago, work is underway to raise awareness of food insecurity and poor nutrition as a public health issue. This Future of Food partnership also helps identify innovative solutions to help secure resources for and access to a consistent supply of nutrient-rich foods such as low-fat dairy and produce through the nation’s network of food banks.
The problem of perishables
The first challenge for providing nutritious dairy foods and produce is access to those foods. About six billion pounds of fresh produce goes to waste in America every year, and much of this is due to crops or produce the market is unable to absorb.
Feeding America’s Fresh Produce Initiative works with all players in the food chain, from farmers to retailers, to promote and secure ongoing donations of this otherwise wasted produce. This year, Feeding America is on track to procure and distribute 800 million pounds of fresh produce.
The next challenge is distribution. As the ability to “rescue” food has increased, so has the need for refrigeration.