Local

New Moms, Summer Lunch Bus tackle hunger, malnutrition

Thursday, June 14, 2012

When school lets out for the summer, thousands of Chicago children will lose access to at least one healthy meal each day. One group teaches young moms about nutrition while another delivers healthy food through its Summer Lunch Bus.

The social service agency New Moms helps young mothers learn about nutrition and food choices.

"We serve what we identify as struggling, impoverished, adolescent parents and their children. The moms that come to us are as young as 13 years old up to age 24. They're either homeless or they're facing homelessness and are at risk in some capacity," Mary Griffith, director of resource development at New Moms, said.

Jenny Ramos, 17, admits her knowledge about nutrition is lacking. Through New Moms, she learned how to make a fruit salad -- and tasted a blueberry for the first time. She said she wants to know more to do better for her baby.

"To me it's important because my family is Latino and we usually eat a lot of fried food, fast food, and, like, for children that's not good and that's a lot of problem now in America that kids are obese and that's not something I want with my daughter, Ramos said.

Chef Sharonmelissa Roberson cooks three healthy meals a day for the women and children in the program. She uses supplies from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. She says many of the young mothers don't realize their children can be both obese and malnourished.

"If I'm eating Cheetos or Flaming Hots all day, I can eat them until I get full, but they're not very nutrient-dense. They're empty calories," Roberson said. "So it's about eating not just enough to make you feel full but eating a balance so that you're getting the vitamins and minerals that you need."

Kate Maehr, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, hopes collaborations like New Moms will continue to teach mothers how to make the best choices for their children. Her organization offers a Summer Lunch Bus that delivers healthy foods to struggling families with young children who no longer have school lunches.

"Children are disproportionately affected by hunger. We know in Chicago, one in four children is food insecure, one in four not sure where they're going to get their next meal," Maehr said. "And the challenge if you are a child within the first three years of life and you don't have adequate access to nutritious food, this is a problem that's going to affect you for the rest of your life."

The Greater Chicago Food Depository's Summer Lunch Bus rolls out beginning next month through August. It will deliver lunch to families with young children at twenty-one sites each day on the west and south sides of the city and in some south suburban areas. For more information about either of the programs, visit newmomsinc.org or chicagosfoodbank.org

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