For the second year of Carolina Hunger Initiative’s #SummerMeals4NCKids project, we expanded our work to include student interns embedded in school nutrition programs across the state. These interns worked on the Summer Nutrition Program, which provides healthy meals at no cost to kids via thousands of sites in North Carolina. Take a look at the stories and lessons they brought back from their experience.

Interns Cynthia Sharpe and Ariana Jenkins.

This summer I was stationed as an intern in the Beaufort County Schools Nutrition Department. My tasks were to record meal consumption for each site serving meals to kids through the Summer Nutrition Program, using an online database, known as Cartewheel. In addition, I also helped conduct first and fourth week reviews, in which I would go out to each site and observe them to ensure everything was running accordingly. Aside from this, I have been the delivery girl, an IT specialist, and assistant manager at times! I was always flexible, and I loved every bit of it.

Over the past few weeks, I have had the time to really understand what BCS Nutrition does and all it is involved in. I made genuine connections with the staff and learned the substantial impact that they have on individual lives of the children they serve. Outside of family at home, the next adults that children connect with are often teachers. However, in a much more informal and personal way, children also connect with the school nutrition professionals they see year after year. They are always eager to share personal stories and their excitements of the day with our staff.

“She could not wait to get to school to tell our cafeteria manager that she passed with flying colors.”

For instance, one of the cafeteria managers at one of my sites told me a story about end-of-year testing time. One child (who we will call Kaitlyn) was nervous about taking her End-Of-Grade exams and felt sure she would fail them. The cafeteria manager assured Kaitlyn that she was going to do well because she was a very smart young girl. Our manager encouraged her to eat so that she would not be taking a test on an empty stomach. Once Kaitlyn received her test scores, she could not wait to get to school to tell our cafeteria manager that she passed with flying colors. It was amazing to hear how impactful this story was for both our manager and Kaitlyn. There are many more amazing stories like these that I’ve heard over the summer.

I was a student at Beaufort County Schools, which is why I was so eager to be assigned to this particular region. However, I had no idea that there was so much that goes into school nutrition, ranging from the need for a certain number of staff at each school, down to what we serve on the menu and who supplies it. I transitioned from the mindset of “Oh, I’m so excited to work with kids this summer!” to understanding that in order to do that, we have to start with what’s behind the curtain first, such as HR and management priorities.

Overall, this internship made a huge impact on me. I learned so much! I even was able to travel to an adjacent county, Pitt, and work with another intern, where we organized appreciation gifts for the staff.

“I had no idea that there was so much that goes into school nutrition.”

It’s so hard to sum this experience up without writing a whole book about it! I have really enjoyed speaking with the BCS nutrition staff and traveling to the different summer meal sites. I feel I have made some very meaningful connections over the summer, so much so I even got to travel to Busch Gardens to celebrate our hard work.

This summer has been great. I am grateful for this opportunity, where I was able to see what goes on in my community in such a new light. I hope that other interns and students get such a wonderful learning experience.

Ariana Jenkins is an undergraduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill.