Filling Stomachs, and Fueling Minds

“I can’t tell you how hungry I used to be.” That is what a high school student told me one day when I asked her how she was enjoying her breakfast.

Like many students enrolled in Cincinnati Public Schools, this young lady did not have access to breakfast at home and used to wait for hours until lunch time before getting her first meal every day.

As the food service director for Cincinnati Public Schools, I’m part of an orchestra of people working in concert to create citizens who are prepared for life. Nutrition plays an enormous role in achieving that goal – I know that when our kids aren’t eating regularly and don’t have access to healthy foods, they aren’t fueled and ready to learn. Regular, nutritious meals are essential to a child’s success in school. According to several sources[1], children experiencing hunger are more likely to be absent and tardy, and have behavioral and attention problems.

Thanks to a grant from Action for Healthy Kids, which was made possible through a grant from the Walmart Foundation, we have been able to level the playing field for students like that high school student who used to spend half of her school day with an empty stomach. We have implemented programs for the 35,000 students in our district to provide universal breakfast in the classroom, have salad bars with fresh fruits and vegetables in our lunch rooms and have vending machines stocked with healthier options in the hallways.

For us, it’s not just about giving meals, but also about developing relationships that will sustain our students through the school year. Our teachers participate in our feeding programs alongside our students, so they can act as role models for making healthy choices. 

As students and teachers prepare to head back to school this fall, I know that our school district is not alone in working to fulfill this need. According to the USDA, nearly 3.8 million households with children in the United States were food insecure in 2013. While that figure may seem daunting, I’m encouraged by my school’s mission – and by my role through good nutrition – to help make a difference for our students, one meal at a time.

[1] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Pediatrics and the Journal of the American Academy and Adolescent Psychiatry

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Kids’ Thoughts on Breakfast


Why I’m Driven to Do Something About Hunger

Ten years ago, I set out on my life’s path in a far-from-glamorous way: driving an old, clunky Suburban that needed a bungee cord just to keep the door shut.

My husband and I had lowered the seats in the back, loaded in boxes of food for needy families and then set out to deliver them. We didn’t have a warehouse or an official title, only recommendations from the community on those who could really use our help.

While we didn’t have a ton of resources, we’d made it our mission to find ways to assist our neighbors because at one time, we were in their shoes. A few years before, our first child was born and spent months in and out of the hospital. My husband, Michael, and I both had jobs, but caring for our daughter caused me to miss a lot of work, and so also, many hours of pay. When we realized we were short on money for medicine and diapers, we applied for all the assistance we could think of. But because we were just barely over the income limit, we were rejected.
It was a desperate point. What bills would we pay, and how would we pay them? We ran up our credit cards because we didn’t want our child to suffer. But all the while we were doing what we had to do, we told each other, this isn’t right. No family should have to go through what we did.

We got different jobs and later moved on to work for Walmart. We paid off our debts, and because we’d promised ourselves we’d do something about the problem we experienced, we decided to address it practically. We began delivering food to neighbors who had encountered the unexpected.

Today, our organization, Community Investors, is official and has grown from helping 25 families per month to assisting 865 families in Louisiana’s Acadia Parish. Now, we only deliver food on a limited basis. Instead, we serve the majority like this: Our clients line up in their cars near our building each month, and our volunteers take the boxes out to them so they don’t have to stand outside and wait in the rain, snow or heat.

Clearly I’m passionate about fighting hunger in my community, so I’m proud that Walmart is working to help people understand that this is an important issue everywhere. When customers see signs in their local stores or a TV commercial that spreads the word, it sparks the realization that hunger isn’t a problem that affects only a certain group. And hopefully, they may be inspired to donate money and food to pantries like ours.

Any help we can get is wonderful, because it enables us to do what truly drives me: better supporting those who are unable to get help elsewhere.

Community Investors’ food pantry is part of the Feeding America network. Through Walmart’s Fight Hunger. Spark Change. campaign, customers can help drive monetary and food donations to Feeding America affiliate food banks across the country. Learn how to participate at 



Creating an Appetite for Success

As an educator, my purpose is to lay the foundation for students to learn and inspire them to do the very best that they can each day.  In the fall of 2012, we discovered that something was hindering our success right from the start:  A large number of students at Sarah Moore Greene were coming to class hungry. 

While our cafeteria was serving breakfast each morning, we learned that most of the students were not eating it. So we brought a nutritious breakfast to where they were – the classroom – through a program implemented by Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, which is funded by the Walmart Foundation.

I wanted to provide each child with the opportunity to start their morning in the best way possible, so they have a positive attitude and enough energy to learn throughout the day. Ever since we began serving breakfast in the classroom, I have seen a tremendous improvement in the behavior and aptitude of our students. Now, students arrive to school promptly, are more attentive and work harder on their assignments. Numerous published studies show that academic achievement among students who eat school breakfast tends to improve, especially in vocabulary, math, and standardized tests.

The rate of children being fed in our school doubled in the first semester through the implementation of the program.  Students were not coming to the office asking for food or acting out because of a lack of food. 

With breakfast in the classroom, I have also witnessed a sense of camaraderie and students being more willing to open up and show their unique personalities. Sharing a morning meal for just a few minutes before diving straight into lessons provides students with a sense of community.

Taking hunger out of the equation as a barrier to educating our youth was a huge obstacle our school overcame, and I’m so happy to see that now the only thing my students are hungry for is knowledge.   

Tanna Nicely is a former assistant principal at Sarah Moore Greene Elementary in Knoxville, Tenn.

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Once Hungry, Lisa’s Family is Now Hungry to Help

I first met Lisa as she walked into the YMCA of Greater Rochester with her youngest child still in a stroller, and her preschooler toddling along. For Lisa, planning three meals for her family every day was something that she could not afford as a single mother of three.

Fresh fruits and vegetables – a staple in a healthy diet for growing kids – were an expensive luxury. Toward the end of every month, she was left worried and afraid that she wouldn’t be able to put any food on the table. 

Unfortunately, Lisa’s story is not unique. In Monroe County, New York, there are over 100,000 people living with food insecurity. In addition, only one in six low-income children nationwide who relied on free and reduced school lunches participated in a summer nutrition program last year, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

Lisa and her girls started coming to the YMCA of Greater Rochester in 2013, where we were able to offer a solution to her family. We provide local children free access to nutritious meals during the day including breakfast, lunch and healthy snacks. For moms like Lisa, it’s a tremendous relief as they no longer have to worry about where their kids’ next meals are coming from.

Our facility is one of many YMCAs in 2,300 communities nationwide benefitting from a $5.3 million national grant from the Walmart Foundation that enabled the expansion of yearlong food programs. This grant is part of a group of grants made by the Walmart Foundation, totaling $15.5 million, to support free meal and nutrition programs. These grants mean so much to so many families this time of year, as children are out of school and without access to school meals and the daily routines they count on.

Today, things are improving for Lisa and her family. She graduated from college with honors this May and already has a job as a pharmacy tech at a local hospital. She credits our YMCA program with giving her the support and peace of mind that she needed while finishing her degree. Lisa now is also able to give back. Many times, I’ve seen Lisa and her daughters bring clothing to our facility in the hopes that other families will benefit.

Lisa and her girls still come to the YMCA each morning, and I talk to her about her plans for her daughters, who she says will grow up to change the world. I bet that dream will come true.    

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