September 20, 2023

FoodCorps Fights for Free, Nutritious Meals for Every Child

“I can connect students to beautiful experiences with whole foods through education and service.”
—Bridgette Byrd, FoodCorps Service Member, Newark, NJ

FoodCorps service member in the cafeteria with kids

What is the problem FoodCorps is trying to solve?

Today, 18% of children in the U.S. don’t have the nourishment they need to learn and be well—with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) households disproportionately facing greater food insecurity and diet-related diseases due to systemic racism and classism. Kids who come from food insecure communities depend on schools for two thirds of their caloric intake.

Kids grow, learn, socialize, and eat as many as two out of three of their daily meals at school, making this institution a key place where they can build positive relationships with food that will last a lifetime. And providing free, nourishing school meals increases school meal participation and is associated with improvements in math and reading scores

School meals alone aren’t enough to set a kid up for a lifetime of nourishing eating habits. Researchers underscore that 35-50 hours of nutrition education is ideal to bring about full-scale behavior change, yet the average student in the U.S. receives less than eight hours of nutrition education each year. Consistent education and repeated exposure to nutritious food fosters greater sovereignty and agency within kids to choose more nourishing foods on their own. 

Together, food education and free school meals form one of the most critical areas of investment that will lead to better and more equitable child health outcomes. 

Public schools are one of the most powerful places for kids to grow their relationship with food in a way that benefits them nutritionally, academically, and emotionally. So why do we ask kids and their families to pay for school lunches, when we don’t ask them to pay for textbooks or bus rides? We’re now seeing an increase in school meal debt for kids whose families do not qualify or do not sign up for support, but who still cannot afford to pay for their meals.

What is FoodCorps doing about this?

FoodCorps is working day in and day out to make sure every child in the US is nourished and ready to learn. Their mission is to work with schools and communities to institute food education and access to nourishing school meals for every student. Uniquely, their approach combines locally tailored school and district programming with movement building and policy change at both the state and federal level.

At the community and school level, there is a dedicated FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member in over 200 schools and districts across the country, from Kentucky to California, working alongside partners to reach 350,000 students each year. They’ve grown significantly since Newman’s Own Foundation first started supporting them in 2012, with a deep presence in 16 states and Washington, D.C. 

For policy work, FoodCorps partners with a diverse coalition of leaders at the state and federal level, including a number of other Newman’s Own Foundation grantees, such as Food Research and Action Center and the National Farm to School Network

FoodCorps’ ambitious goal is that by 2030, every child will have access to food education and nourishing food in schools. This goal may have seemed implausible just a few years ago, but the rollout of free school meals early in the pandemic showed that it was possible and effective. Eight states have recently passed universal free meals for their students, with an additional twenty-one considering similar policies.

A Great Example of How This is Working

There is still a long way to go, but we have seen some significant victories this year. 

Just look at New Mexico, a state FoodCorps has been working in since its launch in 2012. Kendal Chavez—a FoodCorps service member alum, current board member, and school food advisor to the New Mexico governor—was a key player in the passage of 2023 legislation making universal free and healthy school meals the law of the land with a bipartisan unanimous vote. This effort was supported by FoodCorps state leaders organizing constituent letters and mobilizing more than 200 advocates to testify before the state senate. 

The resounding win for kids and school nutrition highlights the amplified impact of combining both direct service in schools and communities with movement and policy work, which is at the heart of FoodCorps’ approach.

How You Can Help Get Free Schools Meals For All

“Paul Newman and the Newman’s Own Foundation have been a partner of FoodCorps since the very beginning, and it’s so powerful to see the impact we have made in the last 10+ years together. We are excited that free school meals are gaining true momentum at the state level, but we have more work to do to ensure that by 2030, every child has access to food education and nourishing food in school.” – Curt Ellis, FoodCorps Co-Founder & Co-CEO

There are many ways for you to get involved by donating directly to FoodCorps, signing up to receive their newsletter, applying to become a FoodCorps service member, or joining their network of advocates to help effect policy change at the state and federal level.

It’s 2023 and time to ensure that every child has the nourishment they need to thrive. 

Want to support the issues Newman’s Own Foundation cares about more broadly? You can also join the Newman’s Own Community Fund to support Newman’s Own Foundation’s portfolio of school nutrition and food justice organizations across the US. 

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