The Nutrition Program was first imagined in 2014.
Ellie Lucas, CEO of statewide organization Hunger Impact Partners, had recognized a problem that Youthprise could help solve: one in eight children in Minnesota was struggling with hunger even though Minnesota had set aside hundreds of thousands to feed them. This money—over $100,000 in funding—was going unused.
When Thompson Aderinkomi, the current co-chair of the Youthprise board, learned this disheartening truth, he decided to advocate for Youthprise to get involved in accessing that funding to ensure it went towards child nutrition. Supported by the McKnight Foundation,and fueled by cautious optimism, Youthprise came together to strategize.
The Nutrition Program draws upon two federal meal programs:
- The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) offers afterschool meals for students during the school year, and
- the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) offers meals for summer program participants during the summer.
There were obstacles preventing these federal meal programs from being used as intended to provide food for youth. They could only be run by sites that had the financial and administrative capability, and even then, it could be a losing game. Smaller organizations that had the matching goals and the right community connections often decided not to participate because they lacked the capacity.
Both programs were severely underutilized and the time was perfect for someone capable of heavy lifting to step in.
Youthprise volunteered to be that heavy lifter.
We consulted with Ellie Lucas and others familiar with federal meal programs to create projections about the possibility of running a combined year-round meal program with Youthprise as a central sponsoring hub supporting the efforts of multiple sites. We calculated if such a program would break even and whether it would reach one million meals served.
Projections said that the 1,000,000th meal was at least seven or eight years down the road—and only if we could make it through the first few years.
That was our true challenge.
Youthprise used our strength as an intermediary to our advantage. Our aim was to support smaller youth-serving organizations who were close to the community needed but a boost to provide meals. We sponsored their use of two federal meal programs, offering financial and administrative power. By managing the aspects that they couldn’t easily handle, our work allowed community organizations to remain focused on mission-driven activities.
We call this The Hub Model: by serving as sponsor for multiple sites, we aimed to create space for program to focus on their missions while allowing the meal programs to supplement and accent the organization’s work with youth.
Last month in January 2020—just five years after being approved as a multi-site sponsor of the CACFP and SFSP federal meal programs—Youthprise’ Nutrition Program served our one millionth meal, following our largest year to-date.
The story of the One Millionth Meals and our Five-Year Anniversary includes over twenty-thousand youth served, over sixty partnerships with community-serving organizations, and work across five counties in the Twin Cities Metro.
Our partnerships have included sites such as the Conway Community Center, MIGIZI, Centro Tyrone Guzman, the YMCA of Twin Cities, and the McDonough Recreation Center; funders such as the Cargill Foundation, the General Mills Foundation, the Otto Bremer Trust, Frey Foundation, United Healthcare, and the Schulze Family Foundation; and initiatives such as Summer Eats MN, Meal Access Partners, and No Kid Hungry.
It takes a community to feed the community!
The work is far bigger than numbers, of course.
Youthprise continues to value building quality partnerships so the local vendors and community organizations we work with can provide high-quality meals and nutritional programming to sponsored sites. Our partner sites have reported that the Nutrition Program allows them to move money from food expenses to paying for staff, interns, additional programming, equipment updates, and other programming enhancements.
But so much of this work—the partnerships, the burdens lifted, and the healthy accessible meals—is unquantifiable.
One million meals means that after-school and summer meals have nourished many young bodies and minds that otherwise would go underfed, directly impacting the social well-being of youth and their communities. The organizations that provide these meals will also have more opportunities to build relationships with the families they serve in a safe and welcoming location.
Sharing meals, after all, is one of the most universal ways of building community.
The central question that powers the work of Youthprise’s Nutrition Program is "How can we expect youth to be brilliant if they’re hungry?”
Our focus is to foster the health, wellbeing, and brilliance of young people. The Nutrition Program has been our method of achieving those goals through food. We will continue to serve as a sponsoring hub for community-focused organizations who want to help feed the youth in their communities. Plus, we hope to extend our work to Greater Minnesota in coming years.
But right now, we want to celebrate the many partners who helped us reach One Million Meals—this is your achievement too! Thanks for taking a major risk on our dream, and here’s to a million more meals!
To join this success story:
Donate to Youthprise so that parents and families can eat alongside the youth;
Download the Summer Eats app to find a summer meal serving program near you;
Participate in the local census to ensure your community qualifies for federal meals;
Reach out to a local community center to see if they qualify to serve meals;
Ask your local policymakers to increase their support for the program; or
Contact Christa at email@example.com to learn more!