By Lianetta Taylor-Oliver, HOPE Project Leader
Over the past two years while working with HOPE I have been working on local food systems and food justice work around the Healthy Corner Store project. As a parent of an OUSD middle school student who qualifies for free/reduced school lunches I became interested in joining HOPE’s school food team for support in my challenges and financial struggles as a low-income parent having to purchase and prepare lunches on a daily basis. Over the years I’ve had so much frustration around the free/reduced school lunch program because of the poor quality of the meals and limited healthy options for students.
In 2015 through HOPE I learned of an opportunity to get involved with local school food policy by attending the OUSD school board meeting to support the approval of the central kitchen. This kitchen will improve learning and provide access to healthy, fresh, local foods for students.
Another great opportunity to get involved with policy work was a partnership with 5 others who are actively involved in food systems justice and school food and wellness work:
Sarah Ting – Food Corps Alumna who served at OUSD,
Jennifer Le Barre – Nutrition Services Director at Oakland Unified School District (OUSD),
Sandra Muniz – former OUSD student and current Coordinator at East Oakland Building Healthy Communities,
Ken Hecht – Director of Policy for the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of CA,
Christina Hecht – Senior Policy Advisor for the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of CA
I joined them for a two day training in Washington DC on Child Nutrition Reauthorization, and to meet with House and Senate representatives of the following offices:
Barbara Lee – U.S. Representative for California’s 13th congressional district
Dianne Feinstein, senior United States Senator from California and member of the Democratic Party
Barbara Levy Boxer junior United States Senator from California and member of the Democratic Party
The first day of the training was a wonderful introduction to Child Nutrition Reauthorization beginning with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project team sharing their past and present work. I also heard from the USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services who shared information on child nutrition integrity and access in 2016. Questions, comments and recommendations from other school food and wellness teams who represented other US stateswere also presented. Stories and experiences were shared in addition to the benefits and outcomes of CNR. Before Washington DC I knew little about lobbying or school food policy and changes on a national level.
During the training I learned more about school wellness policies and programs, particularly the California Fresh Thursdays that I will encourage my son to participate in. There is also a new program that will offer Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for participants in the free lunch program during the summer.
During the training our team along with other teams practiced state delegation messaging in preparation for the Capitol Hill office visits. Before the practice I was nervous about talking to legislative representatives; however there was so much support, knowledge, experience and encouragement from other team members. Legislative representatives were very welcoming, listened to what we had to say and were also in support of CNR. In speaking with legislative representatives we all had a chance to share our personal and professional experience around school food and wellness and what we wanted Congress to know about school food at OUSD and how the Child Nutrition Programs and school meals equipment can improve the program.
Speaking at the House and Senate Offices on Capitol Hill was a very big step for me and very important because supporting and requesting a push for CNR means healthy outcomes for students and ongoing support for affordable, accessible, healthy, fresh local foods across the US.
The CNR training also offered networking and collaboration opportunities with other like-minded individuals interested in school food, wellness and nutrition. I was definitely inspired and empowered as a parent, Project Leader at HOPE and as an Oakland resident and community member.
The next steps for me are to stay connected and involved in school food nutrition and wellness and learn more about local, state and federal policy. I would also like to advocate, support and encourage my son and the OUSD community to participate in California Fresh Thursdays, along with spreading the word and sharing what I learned about CNR programs with other parents and community members and partners.