Tuesday, November 21, 2017

News To Add Joy To Your Thanksgiving

            Wishing all of our friends and supporters the best for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, with gratitude for the historic achievements your support has made possible.

Childhood hunger is down by one-third since we began the No Kid Hungry campaign – more kids are getting the school meals they need than ever before – and we are well on our way to achieving our ambitious goal. At a time when Americans are desperate for evidence that our problems can be solved, we have forged the bipartisan public-private partnerships to solve this one. But still, too many kids in this country are struggling with hunger. I’m so grateful that we can count on you to help get us across the finish line.

            I hope you will take some joy this holiday season, as I do, from the words of 4th grade teacher Angela Homan who said of our signature program: “Breakfast After the Bell changed the environment of my classroom. My students begin their days ready to learn which is a dream come true for me.”  Or of single mom Heidi Alphen who said of our nutrition education efforts: “Cooking Matters gave me my confidence back when I was at the lowest point in my life. It encouraged me to go back to work in the food industry, which in turn provided myself and my family with so many opportunities. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for making a difference in my life.”

             Wishing you and your family all the best. Thanks again and have a happy and healthy holiday.

Monday, November 20, 2017

School Meals As Delicious as Thanksgiving

           Wishing you the best for the Thanksgiving holiday, and in anticipation of the delicious food we will all enjoy, sharing this hopeful experience regarding delicious school meals.

Earlier this month, Rosemary and I drove 15 minutes from our home in Boston’s Back Bay to the P J Kennedy Elementary School in East Boston near Logan Airport. Traditionally a community of immigrants – once home to John Kennedy’s paternal grandfather Patrick -  East Boston is now 50 percent Latin American, and the school 85%.

Jill Shah, a friend and neighbor of ours whose family foundation renovated kitchens in three East Boston Schools to pilot improved school meals for some of Boston’s poorest children, met us to give us a tour. Until recently, Boston school meals were made on Long Island and sent here from New York to be thawed and eaten. Jill’s vision was more old-fashioned – source healthy food locally and actually cook it for the kids.

            The school was built in 1933 and last renovated more than 50 years ago. All 302 K thru 5th grade students qualify for free or reduced price meals. Lunch is served in the basement where the new kitchen was designed by chefs Andy Husbands and Ken Oringer.  School chef Santiago, in chef whites and a Red Sox baseball cap, could not be prouder of the kitchen’s new combination oven/steamer, and especially the counter of freshly cooked food. From the minute we walked in, the wonderful smell made us hungry.

            Around noon, kids line up and point to what they’d like. A lunch lady arranges their choices on a tray.  Today it is broccoli, carrots, chicken, mac and cheese, apples and bananas. The kids sit at picnic style tables and eat quietly. “Notice the zen-like hum” says Jill. “Last year it was total chaos in here.”  Jill plans to expand the program to 30 Boston schools next year.  They will be renovated and retrofit over the summer.

            A first grade girl asks my name. Hers is Melissa and she is with her friend Kristin.  I ask what they like best. To my surprise it’s the broccoli and red peppers.  I walk over to the trash barrel on wheels and find almost no food tossed or wasted. Only empty cardboard trays.

The city estimated the renovation would cost $1 million.  The Shah Foundation did it for $65,000.  They threw in a new coat of paint. “This really didn’t cost much money” she says. “It was more about not taking no for an answer. There were tons of obstacles. A sink that didn’t meet regulations. The lack of a grease trap. I could go on and on. Some people stop at ‘no’. We didn’t. The idea was not just serve better meals but create a food culture here.”

Boston has the money for fresh and healthy school meals. What its students didn’t have was a voice. The Shah Family Foundation provided one. Good food matters. Share Our Strength chefs are as passionate about quality as access. Kids don’t just deserve food, they deserve healthy and delicious food. If the Shaw’s experiment in Boston catches on, our trip to the future maybe closer than we think.

Have a great Thanksgiving holiday. Come back determined not to take no for an answer.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

New Report Points American Politics Toward a New and Healing Path

Not to be missed among all of the analysis about yesterday’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey, is a new report on 2016 voter trends from the Center on American Progress  that suggests it might finally be politically profitable for political candidates to talk about , hunger, poverty and related issues that impact our most vulnerable and voiceless citizens. 
One conclusion of the report is about the opportunity to “go beyond the ‘identity politics’ versus ‘economic populism’ debate to create a genuine cross-racial, cross-class coalition that supports economic opportunity, good jobs, and decent social provisions for all people and makes specific steps to improve the conditions of people of color, many of whom continue to suffer from the legacy of historical and institutional racism.
            For decades, neither Democrats nor Republicans have had much of an appetite for talking about anything other than the middle class, which by all means needs to be expanded and strengthened. But the “cross-class coalition” referenced above goes beyond that, and if the report’s analysis gives future candidates for office the courage to really tackle inequality and social justice issues, it might point American politics toward a new and healing path.

Monday, November 6, 2017

#ThreeThingsWorthMoreThought this week

#ThreeThingsWorthMoreThought this week 

(1)  “Nothing we do inside the school building will stick in a child’s brain until their basic needs have been met.”  Pam Davis, principal of Highland View Elementary School in Bristol, Virginia, speaking at a Share Our Strength all-staff meeting on why breakfast after the bell is so important.

(2)  “Cooking Matters gave me my confidence back when I was at the lowest point in my life. It encouraged me to go back to work in the food industry, which in turn provided  myself and my family with so many opportunities. And it gave me a whole new outlook on healthy eating (newsflash: you don't have to be rich to eat nutritious foods!)” – Heidi Alphen letter circulated by Leigh Ann Edwards Hall

(3)  “Little more than nine months in, we’ve surrendered any expectation of honesty.” – NYT columnist Frank Bruni on White House Press office https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/03/opinion/sunday/sarah-huckabee-sanders-kelly.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share

Sunday, November 5, 2017

"Yes, Cooking matters!"

This is a slightly abridged version of an email we received from an amazing young mom working hard to make a better life for her kids. It made my day, week month.  It affirms that sharing strength can be the key to some of our most solvable problems.


I wanted to reach out to thank you for your incredible program. A little more than 2 years ago I was living in a shelter with my young son, who is now 3. I have always loved to cook, but at that time in my life there were so many unknowns. I was broken and depressed. I was so fearful of my future that I couldn't take any joy in my day to day interests. And now, I had a baby to care for and nourish.

Then, the program I was living in brought in a Cooking Matters class for all the residents. Every week, we would talk about food and nutrition, shopping and budgeting, and the challenges faced by low income mothers to properly feed their families. Then, we would cook. Together. And eat, together. And laugh, together. What an incredible difference this program made in my life! I was building relationships with other women around me. I was sharing my passion for good food and cooking. At times I was even able to teach my peers from my own knowledge. I was able to find my passion again, and use it as a way to rebuild positive quality time with my family. 

Fast forward to two years later. My family and I have a wonderful home filled with love and laughter, and of course, home cooking. Not only have I built a better life for myself, my son, and his father (my fiance); but, through my own healing and rebuilding my life, I was able to provide a home for my two teenaged step children when their mother was no longer able to care for them.

How could I break the ice, and make them comfortable in my home? I cooked. I cooked family dinners. I took the kids to the grocery store with me. We ate together. I baked treats and comfort food. I cooked favorite dinners, and new foods that they hadn't tried before. I got them involved. I watched what they chose for snacks, and gradually added healthier options to the cabinets that would appeal to them.

And amazing things started to happen. My stepson, 17 at the time, would sit in the kitchen with me, and we would talk. Sometimes he would help, more often he wouldn't. But I was giving him an outlet to talk, just like I had when I attended Cooking Matters class. Then my stepdaughter, 19 at the time, who lost her sight at the age of 6, started asking about cooking. We started talking about technique and how-to's. We brainstormed a lot of ways that she could cook and what she could make. This was huge for me- because she is blind, she is very limited to what she can grab in the kitchen if no one is there to help.

And lastly, there's my littlest boy. I am certain that every mother struggles with getting their toddler to try new foods. I relied hard on the advice of the instructors from Cooking Matters. My son always comes to the market with me. We spend A LOT of time in the produce aisle, talking about colors and shapes, and choosing what to buy that week.

My purpose in writing this today is to proudly declare that yes, cooking matters! I'm certain that I would still be eating dinner every night whether I had taken a Cooking Matters course or not. But through this course, I learned so much more than just "how to.." Cooking Matters gave me my confidence back when I was at the lowest point in my life. It encouraged me to go back to work in the food industry, which in turn provided  myself and my family with so many opportunities. And it gave me a whole new outlook on healthy eating (newsflash: you don't have to be rich to eat nutritious foods!) 

So thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for this program, for the wonderful instructors, the fun cookbook, the exciting classes. Thank you for making a difference in my life.

Heidi Alphen