While the Union County Food Coalition works to bring healthy food to people of all ages, recent efforts have focused on students and families. The food coalition’s missions to get healthy food out took on a greater level of importance upon discussions of the food served to students for lunch in the Creston Community School District.
“I was told this by a student’s parent that they’re just getting prepackaged packages of food, that there’s no preparation, no dish washing,” Creston Arts’ Board Chairman and Create Creston Co-Owner Brian Zachary said. “It’s all styrofoam and plastic. It’s like the opposite of local food and real food.”
While the food coalition believes this is largely due to staffing shortages and monetary issues, they discussed ways to change the food situation, such as talking about food programs in the area the food coalition supports.
“The teacher kits, at least with the Creston ECC, would be kind of the starting point of going in maybe after it’s been going a few months to say, well here’s a project that we currently have going on,” co-founder of the Union County Food Coalition and Executive Director of Southern Iowa RCD Michelle Wilson said. “Here’s the success stories that we’re hearing from the teachers. Just to kind of have, this is something we’re offering that’s currently going well to just plant those seeds and maybe make some potential recommendations on how we can move forward with it.”
Gibson Memorial Library Director Gabriel Chrisman mentioned finding statistics for the school board regarding the benefits of fresh, healthy food.
“There has to be information out there also on the education benefits,” Chrisman said. “Aside from the health and stability and all of that, but the actual bottom line as far as the school district is concerned, educational outcomes are effected by that.”
The food coalition have a number of programs either in place or being worked on to help combat the food issues in Union County
While some programs are still being worked on, others have gone in to full force, such as the Creston Middle School food pantry.
“The middle school food pantry has been up and going,” Wilson said. “They’ve got it open during snack time and then they’ve got it open at the end of the school day when people will be able to take stuff home. It’s going well so far.”
Middle School In-School Suspension Supervisor Karen Stover has been running the food pantry inside the school, with resources coming from the Food Bank of Iowa.
“The food is all coming from the Food Bank of Iowa. There’s no cost to the school district at all,” Wilson said. “They’ll provide shelving and things like that if you need it, so I’m very excited to see that happen.”
The food pantry is open to all students, something Wilson said was important.
“There’s no kind of screening criteria, it’s open to everybody,” Wilson said. “That was part of what we wanted, to sort of destigmatize it, so anybody could come and access it.”
Another food program the food coalition has been working on will soon go into effect, the food boxes for area preschools. Wilson explained the response to this program was better than expected.
“Our goal was 10 [boxes], and our advice from the state director was, I would just start with 10 for your first year, but I reached out to many of the area preschools,” Wilson said. “They were all like, yes, absolutely, count us in, so I just got an extension to have 14 boxes, which is kind of exciting. That will start later this month.”
Preschools using the boxes include Greater Connections, Creston, Corning, Lenox, Mount Ayr and East Union. Boxes will include locally grown foods to try, along with activities and information regarding that food.
In October, the food coalition will be trying out a fall make-and-take program for Creston families. Families who sign up will be able to make a healthy meal to take home with them, as well as receive resources from area health agencies and extra time in the Creston Area Food Pantry.
The make-and-take class will be held Oct. 25 at the food pantry, with more details coming out soon.