Plans for reopening Houston area schools for the 2020–2021 school year are still being decided. But no matter how the school year unfolds, the Brighter Bites food program will be there helping families of school children through these times of food insecurity brought on by COVID-19.
Brighter Bites was founded in 2012 to foster healthy communities by providing fresh produce, nutritional education, and recipes to schools in six U.S. cities, including Houston. Normally, the nonprofit organizes parent volunteers from local schools to help sort food into boxes for distribution. The pandemic, however, forced Brighter Bites to adapt to new realities.
Mike Pomeroy, Brighter Bites’ openly gay senior program director, says the non-profit quickly developed distribution plans that can be put into place whether schools reopen with in-person classes, virtual learning, or a combination of both.
And since Brighter Bites serves the Houston, Pasadena, Galena Park, Alief, and Aldine school districts, they had to plan for up to five different reopening scenarios.
Pomeroy notes that Brighter Bites usually distributes produce supplied by the Houston Food Bank during specific weeks of the school year. But because of the pandemic and a new federal nutrition program, food will be distributed every week on school campuses. “It’s a great service to families in need right now,” Pomeroy says.
Under the Department of Agriculture’s new Farmers to Families Food Box Program, a federal initiative was developed to distribute free agricultural products to those in need through the end of 2020. This program has hired workers to replace the volunteers who were coming into the schools to help package food boxes. Through the partnership with the Houston Food Bank, Brighter Bites will continue to supply presorted food boxes to schools in 2021 and potentionally beyond, since parent volunteers won’t be able to gather and sort bulk produce.
Brighter Bites’ nutritional coaching for students and their parents is part of a curriculum that addresses comprehensive health education. A Google platform is now being used to offer that coursework remotely.
Social media will be used to create excitement about food preparation. Facebook groups will allow parents and students to trade recipes and show pictures of their cooking projects. When one mother explained that she did not want to buy vegetables that her children might not eat, Brighter Bites showed her new ways to cook that almost guaranteed satisfaction, such as browning Brussels sprouts.
This fall, a new Brighter Bites smartphone app will help families access a vast library of recipes, tip sheets, and produce how-to’s. It will also allow hands-free check-in for food-distribution events at each school.
Brighter Bites regularly surveys the people it helps, and analyzes the feedback. The program recently reported dramatic increases in meals cooked from scratch, nutrition labels being read,, and fruits and vegetables being consumed. Perhaps most importantly, families also reported a significant decrease in their intake of added sugars.
Pomeroy, who worked with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign in 2012 before becoming a key player in Brighter Bites’ development, is pleased with the impressive results being reported by so many families in the program.
“Brighter Bites families are among those who have been hit hardest by this pandemic. Because we were able to pivot our operations quickly, we were able to continue serving these families, not only with healthy food, but with connections to other desperately needed resources as well. It’s an honor to be part of an organization that prioritizes serving our families when they need it most, no matter the barrier,” Pomeroy says.
For more information on Brighter Bites, visit brighterbites.org. Read more about Mike Pomeroy and his partnership with the Houston Food Bank in the May 2020 issue of OutSmart magazine.