We know that young people in White Center face significant barriers to accessing healthy food. Based on what we’ve heard from the community, the cost of food and distance to grocery stores are the biggest obstacles. In 2018, with the help of King County, FEEST developed a project to help address some of those issues on a small scale. Here’s a comprehensive summary of what we did:
Grassroots organizing empowers the people most affected by injustice to lead the way toward their own solutions. This means community control at every step along the way.
In the fall of 2018, we assembled The Healthy Food Round Table (HFRT), a committee of students, parents, food businesses, and others who live, work, and play in White Center. They developed a community survey to learn that barriers young people face accessing nutritious food in their neighborhood and schools. From the survey of 319 community members, we learned that the cost of food and distance to grocery stores are the biggest obstacles in the neighborhood. And in school, the poor quality, lack of variety, and cost of school food deter most students from eating. One in four students from another FEEST survey said they don’t eat school food at all.
Since youth spend the majority of their days at school, it’s often the most convenient place for them to get food. We heard overwhelmingly from community members that having more fresh fruits and vegetables could make a big difference. With that in mind, the committee identified a pilot project that could help bring more fresh produce to our local schools.
Snack Box Pilot Project
Last fall FEEST launched the HFRT Pilot Snack Program, which brought free nutritious snacks to every classroom (more than 900 students!) at Evergreen High School. Every week, our volunteers packed and delivered enough produce and fruit-based snack bars for students to have at least one snack per school day. The project ran for 11 weeks between September and November.
We partnered with Lee’s Produce, a POC owned market that has served White Center for nearly forty years, to provide a variety of fruits like oranges, apples, persimmons, Asian pears, plums, and more. At the end of the 11 weeks we surveyed over 500 students and 37 teachers to learn what impact the snacks had made on campus. Here’s what they said:
What We Learned
When students have access to fresh, free fruits and vegetables, it positively impacts their ability to learn and positively impacts the culture and community of the school. 70% of students (332) surveyed reported improved ability to learn. Increased energy and attentiveness were the most common improvements noted. 65% of students (310) surveyed reported improved moods during school.
From teachers, 87% reported a positive change in their classroom environment after the snack boxes were added. The greatest areas of improvement observed by teachers were increased energy, participation, and engagement. Three write-in improvements noted by teachers were “overall positive classroom culture,” “overall energy level and activity,” and “joy.”
Our Policy Recommendations
Based on all we’ve learned, here’s how we think the school district could move forward:
- Implementing scratch cooking at all schools. This includes renovating kitchens, providing proper kitchen equipment and training kitchen staff in how to cook from scratch.
- Making breakfast and lunch free for all students. This can be accomplished by registering schools for Community Eligibility Provision, a program that provides fully-funded meals to schools that have 40% or more students who meet the program’s eligibility requirements.
- Increasing the availability and variety of hot meals and salad bar offerings, including authentically-made meals that reflect the diverse cultures of students in South King County.
- Expand the Snack Box Program to include middle and high Schools in addition to the already existing elementary School snack program in the Highline School District.
VIDEO: Here’s what students had to say about the project.
VIDEO: Evergreen HS math teacher Mohamad Shibly wrote a rap about how the snack project impacted his classroom. It’s actually pretty good!
PHOTO: Thank you to our team! FEEST staff, the HFRT Committee, Highline Public Schools, and Evergreen High School.
What You Can Do
Many of you asked what you can do to bring back the free fresh fruits and vegetable snack boxes for our students. One of the easiest ways is to contact your Decision Makers and let them know the changes you want to see in school food. Spread the word to your friends and community members. Here is a sample script you can use:
Dear [insert name],
I am writing to you today to advocate for more fresh, free fruits and vegetables for our students in the Highline School District. The Healthy Snack Box pilot project at Evergreen High School showed that when students have access to fresh, free produce, it positively impacts students’ ability to learn and builds a stronger sense of community at school. To ensure all of our students are set up for success, I hope you will make the following policy changes:
- More fresh food cooked from scratch
- Free breakfast and lunch for all students via the Community Eligibility Provision
- More variety in school menus, including more culturally relevant items
- Extend the snack program to secondary schools
Thank you for your commitment to our students’ success!
Here are the decision makers you can contact:
Dr. Susan Enfield, Highline Superintendent, email@example.com
Highline Public Schools Board of Directors, firstname.lastname@example.org
Angelica Alvarez, School Board President, email@example.com
Bernie Dorsey, School Board Vice President, firstname.lastname@example.org
Aaron Garcia, School Board Member, email@example.com
Joe Van, School Board Member, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fa’izah Bradford, School Board Member, email@example.com