By: Kate Olender, Senior Director, Health and Wellness, United Fresh Produce Association
“Fresh produce is part of self-care that many runaway and homeless youth have never experienced,” says Christina McGovern, Director of Development & Marketing at Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County in South Bend, Indiana. “We prioritize fresh fruits and vegetables because it shows these vulnerable youths they are important, and they’re worth taking care of,” she adds.
Youth Service Bureau, a recipient of a 2018 United Fresh Start Foundation Community Grant, provides crisis intervention services for runaway and homeless teens and young adults. The population is vulnerable to abuse, neglect, violent crime, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking. Youth Service Bureau provides emergency shelter, transitional living for pregnant and young moms, and supportive programming. It also provides fresh fruits and vegetables.
You might think that fresh produce wouldn’t be a priority for an organization that helps kids experiencing trauma, but it’s quite the opposite.
“Staff understand that you can’t nurture a child without also considering the nurturing power of real food,” Christina explains. “We make fresh dishes with the kids, not for them, so they learn skills, become more empowered, and are able to make good decisions on multiple levels.”
The emergency shelter is set up to feel like a home and includes a kitchen and large table for sit-down meals. Many of the kids enjoy fresh produce and a communal meal for the first time during their stay at the shelter.
“The kids in our shelter come from different backgrounds, but they come together around making food from scratch, and they start to interact. Food is a uniter, and the kitchen provides a sense of ‘home’ that many of these young people don’t have,” says Christina.
The feeling of “home” that preparing fresh produce can offer extends beyond the shelter’s kitchen. Martin’s Super Markets, a United Fresh Produce Association member company, is a longstanding partner of Youth Service Bureau. Shelter residents and youth in its transitional living program participate in Martin’s School of Cooking, where they learn about the benefits of eating healthy, try fresh fruits and vegetables, and prepare meals. This year, the United Fresh Start Foundation further supported the partnership, providing funds to purchase produce and create educational materials for the classes.
Martin’s also supports Youth Service Bureau’s annual “Roof Sit” event which raises money and awareness about child abuse and neglect. With additional support from the United Fresh Start Foundation, Roof Sit features a “Fun & Fresh” area, where kids enjoy fresh produce samples.
“We help ensure our young people have a positive experience with fresh fruits and vegetables, and that it contributes to their overall wellbeing” says Christina. “Our young mothers will share that experience with their children, passing “fresh” habits on to the next generation.”