In the seven years since its inception, Food for Thought has operated under the same premise — provide food over the weekend to students in need. But now the organization is taking a fresh approach.
Rather than send home solely single-serve, non-perishable food items, Food for Thought will provide some families with baskets full of enough food, mostly fresh produce, to feed a family of five.
“We wanted to find ways we could better serve our families,” said Stephanie Gardner, executive director of the nonprofit. “This will feed all of the kids in the family, not just the ones we have on our list.”
The program began in 2006 when one mom at Fritsch Elementary School decided to provide backpacks full of food to children living in motels to make sure they had something to eat during the weekends. That year, she and other volunteers served 30 students at that school, providing them with meals that could be prepared with little or no kitchen equipment.
Since, the program has grown to feed 850 students in Carson City, Silver Springs and part of Douglas County. Over the summer, the program served 2,841 free lunches to children ages 2-18 in Terrace Park near Empire Elementary School.
As the program grew, Gardner said, it became time to reassess.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we better serve the children and their families?’” she said. “We heard kids are sharing their food with their younger brothers and sisters. That’s really just a temporary solution.”
She said there was also concern that the food being sent home was actually being consumed.
In consulting with other agencies that serve families in need in the community, she said, they came up with a two-pronged, more permanent solution.
For children living in motels without a kitchen — Gardner estimates there are about 200 of them in Carson City — the program will continue to supply ready-to-eat meals. However, instead of using pre-assembled packages as they have in past years, organizers are going back to the original method of packing the bags themselves.
Families with access to kitchens will be supplied each week with a Bountiful Basket, made up of 60 percent fresh produce and 40 percent dry goods. Fruits and vegetables will come as much as possible from local growers.
Recipes will be included in the baskets so parents will know how to prepare the produce.
“We’re still feeding kids, but we are really helping a family,” Gardner said. “We’re helping the family so they can help the children.”
Gardner said Food for Thought also is going to work more closely with other community organizations, referring families to assistance they can receive from other agencies.
“Maybe they take a budgeting class from the Ron Wood Family Resource Center or a cooking class at F.I.S.H.,” she said. “It would be great if they would learn from the Greenhouse Project how to grow tomatoes and other vegetables in a container.”
The ultimate goal, she said, is to help families move beyond dependence on social services.
“It’s a lot of education,” she said. “We can make changes in people’s lives more than just a bag of food over the weekend.”