Some Eastside High School students spend their afternoons packing rice, beef and produce into perfectly packed boxes for low-income families.
Since March 1, Eastside High School students in the Institution of Culinary Arts have gathered once a week to bag up nutritious ingredients with recipe cards for low-income families in Hawthorne. The students, who supply enough meal kits to create more than 250 meals each week, will continue to prepare meal kits until April 16.
The institution partnered with Karla P. Shelnutt, an associate professor at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, who studies nutrition and food insecurity for the Family Nutrition Program. Shelnutt said families are provided with the ingredients they need to prepare healthy meals for free as part of her research.
“Our goal is to look at the impact of meal kits on the dietary and cooking behaviors of low-income families,” she said. “We want to remove barriers by providing the kits.”
In the institution's second year participating, Pam Bedford, the director of the ICA, said her students have to think consciously when packaging the meals, as there is no room for error.
“The families have to get everything they need, and in the right amounts,” Bedford said.
The students assemble enough food for families to prepare three healthy meals for up to four people, according to the news release from the Alachua County School Board. But Alia Pace, an Eastside High junior, said the project is more than just a study.
“It makes me really happy that we’re able to help people right now, to feed people who need it and make sure they’re getting proper nutrition,” Pace said.
Jay’Marlon Wilson, an Eastside High junior, said he and other students make sure everything that goes into the kits is healthy and safe. More thought goes into the meal kits than just putting them into a bag, Wilson said. After the ingredients are sliced and diced the students have to ensure each kit has everything it needs and measure the right amounts, Bedford said.
Last year, IFAS funded the program, and with additional funds from the Walmart Foundation and the Florida Department of Education this year, the Eastside students have made more meals in 2021 than they did all of 2020.
Shelnutt said the program will continue in the fall, and it will include two other Florida high schools, one in Palatka and another in Ocoee. The students in the agriscience program at Hawthorne Middle/High School have plans to grow produce, such as fruits and vegetables, for the kits.
Families who receive meal kits from the program have started to cook together, according to the news release. Some participants said the program has taught them how to cook.
“It’s been very fulfilling to be a part of this project and see the impact it’s having on the families,” said UF doctoral student Kaley Mialki.
Contact Karina Wilson at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kk_rinaa.
Karina Wilson is a second-year student at the University of Florida within the College of Journalism and Communications with a specialization in sports and media. She aims to produce engaging, accurate and current content for all types of sports fans. Currently, Karina is The Alligator's lacrosse beat writer.