Can ensuring students and families are 100 percent food secure also translate to better educational outcomes and economic stability for families?
A 10-year pilot led by Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, the Food Bank Council of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Education and Warren Consolidated Schools is looking to prove it can and create a scalable model that can be replicated in other districts around the state.
Launched in October, Best Food Forward is working to eliminate hunger for students and families at the five schools participating in the pilot and track the impact that has on education, health and family stability.
The pilot is coordinating support from new and existing food pantries and programs, federal child nutrition programs in the schools, and other community hunger assistance and pairing it with environmental changes (such as murals of fresh food in schools), nutrition education, school, parent and youth engagement and policy change, said Rachelle Bonelli, vice president of programs at Gleaners.
The education department, which facilitates the school meal programs, has contributed $221,000 to the pilot for the next two years, and Tyson Foods is funding mobile pantries at the participating middle and high schools.
The education department also secured a two-year, $500,000 grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to support Wayne State University’s evaluation of the pilot and a similar effort launched by the Food Bank Council and Westwood Heights school district in Flint.
Wayne State will track a broad number of behavioral, health, aggregate education and socioeconomic indicators for 100 students in grades 3-12 and 100 parents of those students in each city in the hopes of attracting future funding from the National Institute of Health, Bonelli said.
“Kids do better academically if hunger is taken off the table,” she said. “We want to improve graduation … and literacy rates. That’s not going to happen in one or two years, but we think it will over time.”