For anyone with a school-age child, August means one thing – BACK TO SCHOOL! It’s typically a pretty hectic time when you factor in the tax-free weekend, trying to recalibrate sleep schedules and ensuring you have the tools that your kiddos will need to thrive.
Amidst all the chaos, August is also National Wellness Month. Maybe it’s a coincidence that the month of August was selected – a gentle nudge to families to get back to the basics of health, wellness, nutrition and taking care of themselves after a summer break. Maybe it is a friendly reminder that there is still time to make good on those New Year’s resolutions we made about health and wellness back in January. Maybe, just maybe, there is more to this than meets the eye.
Summertime is hard for many families across the region because they have to find other ways to fill hungry tummies of students that receive lunch and sometimes breakfast AND lunch at school. For the employees at the Foodbank, hunger at any time of the year is unacceptable and earlier this year we developed a strategy to address summer hunger. I am humbled to report in the first year of our new Summer Family Feeding program, the St. Louis Area Foodbank distributed over 86,000 meals in just nine weeks. To put this into context, this is more than three times as many meals than we were able to provide in the last three years combined. However, summer is not over yet. Even when the first school bell rings, signifying the start of a new school year, it sadly does not signify the end of food insecurity for over 427,000 people (nearly 114,000 of which are children) across our 26-county service territory.
Recently I got to witness our strategy in action as the Foodbank took part in the Cahokia School District #187’s “It Takes a Village” back to school event. Serving alongside staff, volunteers, Foodbank board members and our families, we were part of the “village” helping to strengthen the Cahokia community. It was a wonderful event for the community, put on BY the community – with over 30 organizations present to help parents get their kiddos ready to go back to school. In addition to the food we were distributing, there was everything from back to school supplies to dental care. We were also grateful to be joined by the Cigna Health Improvement Tour Bus. Their staff of health coaches conducted free screenings AND helped community members better understand their numbers for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI). This event could not have been more aptly named, as it showed the power of a community coming together to take care of one another – with food and hope.
So while school might not be back in session yet, we’d like to use National Wellness Month as an opportunity to share a lesson that we know all too well – hunger never takes a holiday. As we continue learning and growing to meet the needs of our community, we want to educate the public about hunger and health, too. This year at the St Louis Area Foodbank, we’re increasing our youth and family resource programs. We’re also piloting new ways to serve, support and distribute more healthy and nutritious food across the bi-state region. We are committed to listening, learning and growing with our community partners and agencies, so we can be the best partners in progress for our region. We are laser-focused on wellness every month of the year (not just in August) and we look forward to launching even more initiatives to fulfill our vision of creating a stronger, healthier bi-state region where no one goes to bed hungry. And yes – it will take a village to make this vision a reality.