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Reflections on two years as a Child Hunger Corps member

Samantha Culver, center, with Food Bank colleagues at a summer meals site.
Samantha Culver, center, with Food Bank colleagues at a summer meals site.

It seems impossible that nearly two years have passed since I began the Child Hunger Corps, these last few months are presenting many opportunities for reflection. When I started, I knew that Good Shepherd Food Bank served many people throughout the state of Maine in times of need, but my expectations of how the organization would serve me have been far exceeded. I have had countless experiences that have both humbled me and presented fantastic opportunities for growth.

This growth came from many different avenues. The staff at Feeding America built an incredible program and support system with the generous help of the ConAgra Foods Foundation. My co-workers and friends at Good Shepherd Food Bank, helped to teach me every day and inspire me in ways I never expected. However, some of the most important lessons, the ones I plan to carry with me every day as I work to become a pediatrician, came from the children and community members I had the pleasure of meeting and working with.

To give you all a glimpse into my last two years working to grow child hunger programs in the state of Maine, I would like to share some important lessons that I learned along the way.

First and foremost, hunger is real. I am so grateful for the pureness of children and how they have yet to develop that challenging resistance to asking for help. Some children ask silently. For instance, the child who found a way to get to school to get his BackPack on Friday, despite the fact that he was living in a shelter 2 miles away because his family was evicted the week before. Other students are more direct, like the child who came right up to me at a School Pantry distribution and told me that there was no food at home. She thanked me for giving her a bag of produce for her family.

Secondly, the short and long term effects of hunger are real. I found evidence of this both through my science-based research, as well as through my relationships with school staff and community members. They are the ones who are most eager and committed to get child hunger programs in their schools because they see the results of hunger every day. One site coordinator emailed me to say thank you because she had a kindergartener who came to school every single day hungry. She explained how having access to the School Pantry, “has made a huge difference in his level of comfort and ability to concentrate in school.”

One lesson that I will take with me and continually advocate for is that, ignoring hunger is much more expensive than solving hunger. The cost associated with hunger build as a food insecure child ages, and become astronomical over a person’s lifetime. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about this to read the report titled, “Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on our Nation,” or simply go ask a teacher.

Finally, another important lesson – kids will eat healthy food and like it! I have either personally experienced this or talked to site coordinators who have, on nearly a weekly basis during my service term. Last week, I helped give a nutrition lesson at a Kids Café. We made fresh salsa and avocado yogurt dip with veggies and homemade pita chips, and there were no leftovers. Furthermore, school and after school staff are tirelessly working to expose children to more healthy foods. These efforts are working and the kids will reap the benefits of this exposure to healthy food for years to come.

I am so grateful for these experiences and the many others that will help me in my future as a professional and a lifetime advocate for hunger relief.