4-H Food and Fitness members gathered from 9 school districts around NE Iowa for the Regional Youth Leadership Team winter gathering on the Luther College campus this month. These youth and adults from area schools meet quarterly to learn about wellness issues in their communities, identify projects to help their school or community, and network by sharing experiences of their club projects and build ideas for future ones.
This gathering focused on Poverty, Hunger & Food Insecurity; a topic many weren’t very aware of. Students and staff participated in the State of Poverty Simulation, provided by Jill Weber, ISU Extension & Outreach Nutrition and Wellness Specialist. Participants experienced what it might be like living in poverty. The object was to sensitize the participants to the realities faced by low-income families and then brainstorm ways the youth could help make a difference in their own communities.
“The experience was very humbling and makes me appreciate what I have more. It makes me want to learn more about poverty in my town,” said one student participant.
Lunch included a unique experience for all as it was staged as a Hunger Banquet. Participants’ meal were reflected by the ticket they drew, either a low, medium, or high income meal. The purpose of this experience was to show others that not everyone has the same resources and your reality at home often is not the same as everyone else.
“We had many unsatisfied eaters, but this lesson definitely left an impression on them,” stated Laura Liechty, Regional Youth & Nutrition Coordinator, “it was very touching to watch youth will plentiful meals choose to share with those who had very little. I am very proud of the youth in how they responded to today’s lessons. I hope the what they have learned in their experiences today will be something that stays with them throughout their life.”
The afternoon featured a couple guest speakers explaining programs that already exist in our communities to help those in need. Kayla Koether, ISU Extension & Outreach Food Systems Specialist, explained how buying local foods helps the economy and our farmers, and featured a new program the Iowa Food Hub is promoting to “gift” food boxes from the hub to local food pantries.
Brandi Crozier, AmeriCorps member from MFL MarMac, updated the youth on the backpack program and how we can partner with local organizations and the NE Iowa Food Bank to send food home with children during the school year.
The group plans to meet up again in February to continue this conversation and further discuss ways their clubs can create projects that address these issues.