Six years ago the Boys and Girls Clubs of Door County started a program designed to address the nutritional needs of children from food insecure families. “People in Door County often don’t realize how many families in the area are food insecure and really need help,” points out Boys & Girls Club Chief Executive Officer Julie Davis, “it’s a very hidden problem, but in working with these kids on a daily basis, you often hear things like ‘I had an apple to eat this weekend.’”
In 2011, the Monday Night Meal program that was established to address this need began small, serving 20 to 25 children from a warming kitchen at Sawyer Elementary School. Today, thanks in part to the addition of a commercial kitchen—generously provided by David Hatch—and with the addition of CACFP (Child and Adult Care Food Program) funding from the state, which reimburses the Boys & Girls Club for every snack and meal, the initial program has expanded enormously, averaging 200 or more after school snacks, five days a week, between Sawyer Elementary School and the new Boys & Girls Club in downtown Sturgeon Bay. Additionally, the Boys & Girls Club CACFP funded Food Program serves healthy dinners on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. However, CACFP funding doesn’t cover operational expenses, so even with state funding, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County ran a budget shortfall last year. Thankfully donations from Door County Medical Center, along with donations from other institutions and private individuals, have helped bridge that financial gap, “At Door County Medical Center,” remarks DCMC’s Communication and Marketing Specialist Erin Shortall, “we believe in supporting, in whatever way we can, Door County’s most vulnerable kids—in providing them with the basic necessities that they need to succeed. If that means providing financial support, then that’s what we do.”
Building a Platform for Academic Success
Initially, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County had three priority outcomes they were looking to build—three value systems that the organization wanted to instill in the children they served: healthy lifestyles, academic success and good character and citizenship. Following their initial Monday Night Meal at Sawyer Elementary School they added a fourth: basic needs. Ms. Davis recalls, “We realized that, just like when you or I—when we’re sitting at our desk trying to do what we need to do at lunch and we haven’t eaten yet—we can’t focus.” She adds:
Kids that are running a constant calorie deficit can’t focus either. So, we felt strongly that, here in America, in Wisconsin, and in Door County, food insecurity should not be the barrier that kids are struggling against to achieve academic success. A lot of organizations work to help parents become more responsible. We’re not one of them. We’re an organization that if you’re hungry, we want to feed you. We want to provide a baseline so that you can move on to what’s really going to be key in helping you become a successful adult, which is building a solid academic platform for wherever you want to go after graduation. So, we’ve got to feed kids, this can’t be the barrier in our community that holds our kids back.
For Ms. Davis and the staff at the Boys & Girls Club, it’s not just about providing kids with food, it’s about providing them with healthy food, and with the opportunity to explore new kinds of food.
Our commitment is to healthy lifestyles. We discovered we needed to expose kids, who are not used to having food available, to a wide array of fresh fruits, vegetables, and cheese. Understand that food insecure households can’t take the risk of exposing kids to new foods they won’t eat—they can’t financially afford to throw food away. As a food insecure parent, you’re not going to buy food your kids might not like—you’re not going to risk buying broccoli knowing that you might need to throw it away.
This approach also revolves around the repeated exposure to a variety of foods. Recently, the Boys & Girls Club implemented the “Tuesday Nutrition Nugget,” which involves Healthy Lifestyles Coordinator Susan Gigot-Klein teaching the kids about the different types of food—the difference between green beans and yellow beans, for example—and giving them the chance to sample foods they are less likely to have been exposed to, like hummus. Moreover, they discuss why eating healthy, “green” foods is important when trying to maintain a healthy body, and how maintaining a healthy lifestyle positively impacts your development as a human being.
Perhaps more than anything, the Boys & Girls Club Food Program is about providing kids with the tools required to build a healthy lifestyle, tools which extend all the way from the garden to the dinning room table. “We started garden programming from the first summer that we offered summer programming,” says Ms. Davis, the Club initially working a double plot for three to four years at The Community’s Garden behind DCMC, and eventually building, in collaboration with Leadership Door County, a garden directly behind the Boys & Girls Club in downtown Sturgeon Bay. She adds, “Teaching kids about how and where their food is grown, and what it tastes like when it’s fresh—it incentivizes them to try fresh foods.”
Moving beyond the garden and into the kitchen, the Boys & Girls Club has developed programming like “Edible Art” and “Teen Cuisine.” Ms. Davis explains that, “With our teenagers, there are a lot of families where once you hit a certain age, guess what? You get to feed yourself. And their idea of feeding themselves is grabbing an energy drink and a bag of chips.” With Teen Cuisine, the kids not only learn basic kitchen skills, they also learn how to create a menu, purchase the food from the store, and finally, prepare the food. In essence, not only do they get the entire store-to-table experience of creating a meal for themselves, but also the basic cooking skills that they will need as an adult.
“There is a higher level of food insecurity in Door County than you might think. We tend to think that is happening in some other community, but it is happening right here,” Ms. Davis notes. “There are gaps that we find—calorie deficits, for example—and barriers and challenges to the kids that we serve. And it’s so real that you are driven to do something about it, and that is where I think we are, at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County we see a gap and a need in our community, so we are driven to try and fill that gap and serve that need.”
The Boys & Girls Club David G. Hatch Center is located at 55 South 3rd Avenue in downtown Sturgeon Bay. Afterschool snacks are provided Monday through Friday from 3:00-3:30 p.m., and dinners are provided Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5:30-6:00 p.m. Teen Cuisine and the Edible Arts programs take place during club time, weekdays from 4:45-5:30. Registration for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County is $10 per year. For more information on the Afterschool Program and/or the Food Program, and for more information on how to donate to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County, please visit their website at: http://bgcdoorcounty.org or call: (920) 818 – 1046.