Thinking outside the lunchbox

2 02 2011

I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion among stakeholders from education, health, social services, municipal services, business, food and nutrition, and philanthropic interests. The topic was the development of a school-based, universal student nutrition program for Hamilton. I have been working with the Hamilton Community Foundation on this project for several months, and this discussion was the latest step in the Foundation’s effort at helping the community to move forward with the goal that “no child leaves school hungry”.

This was a dynamic group discussion, and one peppered with as many questions as answers. That’s par for the course at this early juncture in a community initiative. But despite the unknowns, local stakeholders in attendance made it clear that they see this project as not only important but also entirely necessary. Too many youngsters don’t receive adequate nutrition in Hamilton, and many are hungry enough to be distracted from learning. But what to do? Stakeholders at the session were asked how they would approach the development of a program to make sure all students get enough to eat. They were encouraged to think beyond current efforts, such as traditional school programs or breakfast clubs. They were asked to push themselves to think “from scratch” and not be limited by the way things have historically been done. Their level of enthusiasm and commitment is a good sign of support for seeing this preliminary work by the Foundation turn into something tangible. It’s premature to report anything here in terms of the discussion, but I was reassured by the focus on outcomes for children, the desire to see parents engaged and involved, and the willingness for most stakeholders to step outside their usual parameters just long enough to imagine something new and different.

Watch for developments in the School Nutrition Project as the discussion progresses and early ideas take shape. Think you’d like to be part of the discussion? Please contact me.

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