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Boulder Weekly | Sept 25, 2014
Full backpacks, full stomachs

Colorado Friendship improves food security for Longmont students by Mallane Dressel

As the temperature drops and the leaves change color, kids around the nation get back into the swing of school. For some students it means little more than early mornings and evenings lost to homework, but for others, it means knowing they won’t go home hungry — at least during the week.

Colorado Friendship

The National School Lunch Program provides reduced and free lunch for students experiencing food insecurity during the school week, but many teachers and principals are realizing that when Monday comes, some of these kids are not receiving the nutrition they need over the weekend to be successful in school.

The Longmont-based nonprofit Colorado Friendship keyed into this need. The organization started out as a disaster relief group 15 years ago, but wanted to develop programs that could provide consistent support for the community. With the success of their Hot Meals on the Street program, which feeds Boulder’s homeless every Sunday evening, Liz Friedenson, executive director of Colorado Friendship, looked to create a program that concentrated on improving food security with children.

“We found out that there were quite a few schools that were in poor shape,” says Friedenson. “Where parents were struggling to provide, and found that smack dab in the middle of a nice neighborhood that there was a school that had 90 percent of its kids on the assisted or free lunch program. It came as a surprise to us because it’s not like we are in Denver — it’s Longmont. It was definitely not what we were expecting.”

Colorado Friendship developed the IncrEdibles program in the spring of 2013. The program provides underprivileged students with backpacks containing healthy foods and drinks on Fridays to ensure that they receive proper nutrition over the weekend. The first school they contacted was Rocky Mountain Elementary in Longmont, where principal Steven Hoel said that they absolutely needed the support of the new program. The program currently provides 65 packs every Friday to send home with students. The success of the program fueled Friedenson’s desire to expand to another school as soon as possible, but the task is costly. According to Friedenson it takes $10,000 for the IncrEdibles program to provide the packs for one school for the whole year.

In order to start the program, Friedenson applied for several grants and charity funds, the biggest contributors being AEC Trust, Hurlbert Family Foundation and the Virginia W. Hill Foundation.
But a recent connection with Whole Foods on Pearl Street in Boulder allowed the program to include an additional school this year, Northridge Elementary of Longmont.

“I receive quite a few applications, but their application appealed particularly to me because it dealt with food security in children,” says Leah McClay, public relations director for Whole Foods’ Pearl Street location. “People have this perception of Boulder County as being an affluent community, but there are actually many who have to deal with food insecurity in this community, and the IncrEdibles program is really doing a great job at trying to eliminate this insecurity, and that’s something that we really want to be a part of.”

McClay says that it took little convincing to get the approval for a 5 percent contribution day at Whole Foods’ Pearl Street location for the IncrEdibles program. She went a step further by reaching out to the other three Boulder stores and Ideal Market to see if they wanted to participate as well. Because of her efforts, on Nov. 12, 5 percent of the proceeds from each of the four stores will go toward the IncrEdibles program. McClay estimates that the 5 percent day will raise $15,000 to $25,000 for the program.

“Whole Foods’ contribution is tremendous for us,” says Jeff Grossberg, director of development for Colorado Friendship. “We really appreciate that kind of sponsorship and support, sharing a common appreciate for promoting better food for society.”

Lorynda Sampson, principal of Northridge Elementary, says the IncrEdibles program has surpassed her expectations because of Friedenson’s attention to detail and her efforts to not just provide healthy food. Since Friedenson used to be a dietitian, she puts effort into including food in the packs with the highest nutritional value. Some of her nutritionally conscious decisions include Cheerios over Pop-Tarts, 100 percent juices, fruit cups with juice instead of syrup, at least two servings of vegetables and something high in protein, such as nuts or peanut butter.

According to Friedenson, not consuming enough of these healthy foods over the weekend can render students unfocused on Monday. She gets most of her feedback from the principals of the schools who say that the children’s attitudes and performance have improved. Supplying the food for the kids over the weekend also takes the pressure off parents, allowing them to stretch their dollars further.

“I have had several people this week stop me and say, ‘Thank you so much, we are really grateful,’” says Sampson. “They don’t expect anything to be provided, so if you give them something, they are incredibly grateful. I let them know how glad we are that we can provide this service.”

Finding enough funds to continue the expansion of the program has proven difficult, but finding enough dedicated volunteers hasn’t been an issue, says Friedenson. About 15 volunteers meet in the program’s warehouse once a month to fill backpacks for the coming four weeks. They arrange themselves into an assembly line, each person in charge of a specific duty or item. Because volunteering only requires simple tasks, many parents have called to not only get themselves involved, but their kids as well.

“We make sure that the kids know where the packs are going and what they are doing it for,” says Friedenson. “They feel useful and they are getting the sense of why what they’re doing is so important.”

Friedenson would like to continue the expansion of the IncrEdibles program in the Longmont area. McClay also looks forward to helping with the expansion of the IncrEdibles program with more 5 percent fundraising days in the future. Grossberg says he believes IncrEdibles can successfully expand because there is a community developing around this effort, with the principals, teachers, parents, local stores and, more importantly, volunteers spreading the word.

“It inspires me when I watch the volunteers packing the packs because I know how valuable those early years in a child’s life are and the difference it will make in the rest of their lives, and what it means to society in general,” says Grossberg. “It’s not only compassionate, it’s also smart.”

 
 
Colorado FriendShip | Longmont, CO | 303-545-0242 | info@ColoradoFriendShip.org