‘If you had a food truck, how would you use it to help your neighbors?’

Free meals for kids come with lessons on community care

Michelle Curiel was not content to just hand out coloring books to children who came to the park for free meals this summer. She wanted kids to learn something about the “sacredness of food” and hunger awareness.

So when the kids in her neighborhood came to Blackhawk Park to pick up their flatbread pizza or turkey on oat bread sandwiches, Michelle and her church had some creative activity kits ready for them.

For example, one take-home kit invited kids to design a food truck, including planning the menu and prices. Another kit provided the soil, seeds, pot, and instructions for starting an at-home garden.

“The church should be out there and part of what’s going on,” says Michelle. “We should do anything we can to get kids to appreciate food and understand that everyone deserves a healthy meal.”

Above left: Children at Blackhawk Park show off one of their take-home kits. Above right: Michelle Curiel.

Michelle Curiel is director of children and family discipleship at Wesley United Methodist Church in Aurora, Illinois. The COVID-19 pandemic has limited her summer programs. So when she learned the Northern Illinois Food Bank was providing free breakfasts and lunches to children in six Aurora parks throughout the summer, Michelle wanted her church to be part of it.

Wesley United Methodist is located next to Blackhawk Park, “so the kids who go there are our neighbors,” she explained. The church has been “looking for ways to get out into the community instead of asking them to come to us.”

The food bank program that fed Aurora kids in first through six grades  — called “Meals on the Move” — is part of the USDA’s Summer Service Program, according to Jessica Willis, child nutrition manager. A typical box breakfast included blueberry muffin, pineapple tidbits, and low-fat milk. A typical lunch might have grilled chicken salad or hummus dippers.

Michelle said her ministry experience leads her to “find out what’s going on and try to offer support.” So it was her idea to provide activities with an element of community development for children served by the food bank at Blackhawk Park.

For example, the food-truck kit asked children to answer the question: “If you had a food truck, how would you use it to help your neighbors?”* In a kit entitled “Waste Not,” activities focused on not overfilling one’s plate, food waste in the schools, and composting instead of tossing scraps into landfills.

Northern Illinois Food Bank provided multiple meals to about 200 children per day, five days a week from June 1 to Aug. 6, said Jessica. (Today is the last day of this summer’s “Meals on the Move” program, which began in 2017.) Michelle said she hopes to expand her church’s participation in the program next summer.

*The food-truck activity was adapted from a project available on TeachersPayTeachers.com.

Write to me at annettespence1960@gmail.com.

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