Friday, March 27, 2015

The 1 in 5: Eating breakfast, dancing, living healthy

A student receives breakfast at Beidler Elementary School.
Every Friday, dance music reverberates through the halls of Beidler Elementary School in Chicago’s East Garfield Park community.

“Welcome to Fitness Friday!” a voice booms over the PA system, between tracks. For 10 minutes, students and teachers dance up and down the halls, waving their arms and singing along to the music.

Fitness Friday may seem like pure fun, but for Principal Charles Anderson, the activity is part of a larger commitment to healthy living.

“The students really enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a good way to start Fridays, by getting everyone up and moving.”

Another aspect of that commitment to health is a focus on nutrition. To that end, Beidler is part of the National School Breakfast Program, serving meals to nearly 330 students each day.

“You just can’t teach kids if they’re hungry. They can’t focus,” Principal Anderson said.

Breakfast is especially important in East Garfield Park, where the child poverty rate is a stunning 55 percent.

“Many of these students wouldn’t be getting breakfast if they didn’t get it here,” he said.

This is the school’s fourth year as part of the National School Breakfast Program.

“Our scores continue to rise and I think you can attribute that in part to our activities and our breakfast initiative,” he said.

Beidler’s breakfast program encourages a family atmosphere, as students gather in the school’s cafeteria before school to socialize and eat.

“We try to create a culture by making sure kids are eating a healthy breakfast, exercising and having fun,” Principal Anderson said.

According to the most recent school breakfast data, more than 473,000 free and reduced-price breakfasts were served at schools in East Garfield Park in 2013, including approximately 59,000 at Beidler Elementary.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The 1 in 5: A mother's story

Tanya Lee met with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to share her WIC success story.

For Tanya Lee, the WIC program was nothing short of life-changing: it helped her break her cycle of poverty.

Tanya grew up in a single-parent household after her father left her mother. Without a steady income, the family ended up living in government subsidized housing.

“It wasn’t a great environment to grow up in,” Tanya said.

When she was 15, Tanya became pregnant with her son, DeAngelo. She was working a part-time job, but was still struggling to make ends meet. Unsure how she was going to feed her son, she turned to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

“The WIC program really allowed me to get on my feet,” she said.

WIC provides nutrition education, counseling and food from pregnancy until the child is five.

“As a young mom who didn’t know a lot about nutrition, the WIC program trained me,” Tanya said.

In addition to being a critical source of nutritious food for her young son – food that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford – the WIC program enabled Tanya to pursue a future she didn’t think was reachable.

“The WIC program allowed me to go to school, to dream bigger,” she said.

Tanya finished high school, and because WIC helped with her grocery budget, she was able to enroll in college.

“My focus was always to feed my kids, but if I didn’t have WIC my education wouldn’t have been as much of a priority,” she said.

Tanya graduated with a double major in social work and criminal justice. She went on to get her master’s degree in 2009. Now, she is a successful non-profit consultant, runs a food pantry, and hopes to open her own social service organization.

She knows she wouldn’t be where she is today without the WIC program’s assistance nearly 30 years ago.

“If the WIC program didn’t exist, I’d probably be in a dead-end job right now. But that’s not the case. The WIC program opened the door for me,” Tanya said.

Tanya recently joined nearly 30 Greater Chicago Food Depository advocates in Washington, D.C. for the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, where she told her story to lawmakers.