Haley Johnson is a Prevention Resource Center AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate serving with Kalispell District 5.

“May I please cut through the kitchen?”

It was a simple question, but I could not have been more proud of the polite patience. Throughout the summer, the children at the Summer Food Service Program have been working on their manners and respect towards others.

So, while my primary goal this summer has been to provide healthy lunches, I’ve also found myself spending a lot of time encouraging basic manners and kind behaviors.  When kids get rowdy and siblings start to argue, we have a short lesson on how to behave towards one another. I am also encouraging the children to try new foods through a “courtesy bite”.

And while it may sound stuffy to encourage manners, our lunches are far from stifled. We play games. We get outside in the garden. The kids use rulers to measure the corn that they planted earlier, and they shout with glee at the progress. “The corn is four feet tall!”
If anything, my focus on manners may even open them up to talk more, about anything and everything. We’ll start out discussing broccoli, and the next thing I know I’m being asked why boys and girls have separate bathrooms.

With just twenty five kids or so each day, I’m more than a “lunch lady,” and they are more than “meal recipients.” We’re a little community—nourished by good food and hearty servings of respect.