Since beginning my FoodCorps service term two years ago, one of my biggest priorities has been working to make the Flathead Valley a more food secure community by increasing the amount of healthy food that is accessible to children. (Bonus points when the healthy food is local!).

MT No Kid Hungry logo

1 in 5 children across the state and 2 in 5 in the Flathead struggle with hunger. The No Kid Hungry campaign puts it simply, “That child who doesn’t have enough to eat isn’t going to do as well in school, and is likely to get sick more often. She’s less likely to graduate from high school and go on to college, which will have a negative impact on her economic future. If this happens, then twenty years from now, she’s much less likely to be able to earn enough to feed her family.”

MT-PECH logo copy

During a FoodCorps Montana training in February 2012, I had a conversation with Katie Bark, the Project Director of Montana Team Nutrition Program out of Bozeman. I expressed my interested in food security issues, which prompted Katie to invite me to attend a Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger (MT-PECH) committee meeting in Helena.

This meeting also happened to coincide with the launch of the No Kid Hungry campaign in Montana through a partnership with the former Governor Brian Schweitzer, the Department of Public Health and Human Services, and Share Our Strength. This launch and the meeting that followed opened up my service to a whole new set of information, support, and guidance in the fight to end childhood hunger.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to join the MT-PECH committee, and couldn’t be more proud to represent Kalispell Public Schools and FoodCorps. At that first meeting, I was introduced to a document we are working on entitled “10 Steps to End Childhood Hunger in Montana.” Each step has goals, a 2010 baseline, and a 2013 benchmark, as well as a 2015 benchmark. The document really helps me to see how closely FoodCorps service is connected to food security work. Facets of many FoodCorps members’ service are included among some of the steps, for instance:

Step 1: Provide a nutrient-rich breakfast for all school children
Step 3: Expand the reach of the Summer Food Service Program
Step 5: Guarantee that all eligible families have access to public food programs (such as the National School Lunch Program and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program)
Step 6: Increase access for families to healthy, affordable, locally grown food
Step 9: Offer nutrition education to children and families on making smart food choices and active lifestyles

Step Goals 2010 Baseline 2013 Benchmark 2015 Benchmark

But the big news is that for the past year we have been planning the Build a Stronger Montana: End Childhood Hunger statewide summit, taking place September 23rd-24th at Montana State University. A primary goal of the summit is to showcase best practices in communities across Montana that address child hunger. We will do this through hosting a variety of speakers from across the state, providing opportunities to network, and facilitating discussions to give individuals and groups the resources they need to take action in their communities.

We also have quite the list of special guests and presenters! For example, Governor Steve Bullock will provide the opening message and Montana’s First Lady, Lisa Bullock, will speak to raise awareness about hunger in Montana and provide a great understanding of the serious implications the issue has on health and our economy. And thanks to a connection provided by FoodCorps’ wonderful Communications Director, Jerusha Klemperer, our keynote speaker is Lori Silverbush, co-director of the documentary A Place at the Table!

Save the Date-1

On the evening of September 23rd, MT-PECH is co-sponsoring a screening of the film with the Bozeman Community Food Co-op and the Bozeman Film Festival! The screening will take place at the Emerson’s Crawford Theater at 7pm. Following the film, Lori Silverbush and husband Tom Colicchio, producer of the film, chef/owner of Craft Restaurants, and and Emmy-nominated “Top Chef” judge, will participate in a panel discussion.

Please join us in the fight to end childhood hunger in Montana! Extend this invitation to your staff, colleagues, family, friends, and networks because together we can build a stronger Montana.

Save the Date-2 copyVisit to register and for more information. Early Bird registration is available until August 14th!

Post Script: The passion to end childhood hunger runs in the family. My brother, Andrew, shot this PSA for No Kid Hungry last Thanksgiving:

Katie Wheeler, FoodCorps Service Member — Kalispell.