The following is an excerpt from an article posted in The Louisiana Weekly in July 2018:
“Millions of children in the United States participate in free or reduced lunch programs during the school year. During the summer, many of these children face food insecurity and hunger.
Islamic Relief USA, a nonprofit humanitarian and advocacy organization, helps alleviate that hunger through more than $100,000 in grants across the country each year, funding a youth summer meal program. This year, D&R Community and Youth Institute in Westwego received one of seven grants, providing $10,000 to supply meals to hundreds of New Orleans area young people.
“One of the main focuses of our organization is alleviating poverty and hunger,” says Minhaj Hassan, media contact for Islamic Relief USA. “This program does that by filling a gap that is normally filled at schools during the school year. We make sure kids continue to at least get one nutritious meal each day.”
A secondary component of the program is introducing children to healthier foods, which are harder to access in low-income neighborhoods, and also generally more expensive.
“A lot of low-income households are in food deserts, where fresh food costs more and is harder to come by,” says Hassan. “Through our program, we introduce kids to things they may not have had access to; and research shows that the earlier children began consuming these foods, the likelier they are to develop better habits as adults.”
Studies also link nutrition to emotional and cognitive health, meaning that students consuming healthier foods can have improved concentration and better academic performance. “We give them low-fat milk and granola bars instead of soda and candy, and hope that the combination of introducing them to different foods and telling them about the health benefits will have a later impact,” Hassan says.
Islamic Relief USA started the youth summer meals program in 2011, and this is the second year D&R Community and Youth Institute has received grant funding. The organization serves more than 1,400 children across Jefferson parish, delivering meals to the parish school system’s summer camps on the West Bank.
“We cook at the center and then we use insulated containers and coolers to transport the food across the parish,” says D&R Institute Executive Director Ron Simmons. “The biggest summer camp has around 200 kids, but we also go to smaller sites with around 20 or 30 students. Our goal is to give each child nutritious food every day, and the cooks don’t serve anything they wouldn’t serve to their own grandchildren.”
As part of the meal program, D&R hires area college students to deliver the food as part of a job training program. There’s also a rotating library in the center’s community kitchen, where children read before each meal.
‘I was one of those at-risk kids,” Simmons says. “When my parents would leave and go to work we would say, ‘what are we gonna eat?’ There were some cans and stuff, but it’s a lot to ask kids and parents to prepare breakfast and lunch for 55 days of the summer. Our goal is to ease that burden and feed the children in a positive environment.’”
Read the full post on The Louisiana Weekly