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.
This summer, I worked with Pitt County School Nutrition Services to carry out the Summer Nutrition Programs for Kids in that area. I was excited to work in Pitt County, near my second home county of Martin County. Addressing summer food insecurity was already a beyond-worthy cause to be a part of, but doing it so close to family made the effort even more alluring. Also, though I am from nearby, I still did not know Pitt County extremely well, so it was enjoyable to explore and familiarize myself with the area as a part of work.
During this internship, I was primarily charged with contributing to marketing for the program. Learning the area was deeply interwoven into this assignment. I designed flyers and handouts and strategized where to post promotional materials. I also created a database of contacts for hundreds of churches in the area. Churches operate as inspirational, influential, and informative pillars of the community, so they are useful in disseminating summer meals information and could lead to enlarging the number of meal site locations. This means more access for participants. Contributing to the marketing efforts of the program was enlightening, fun, and rewarding.
“Churches operate as inspirational, influential, and informative pillars of the community, so they are useful in disseminating summer meals information and could lead to enlarging the number of meal site locations.”
The major highlight of the summer came on the last day of my internship. I had been organizing a produce giveaway with the Healthy Food Pantry Committee of Pitt Partners for Health, and my last day was the day of the giveaway. After consistent correspondence with a church that participates in the Summer Nutrition Program, I finally got to meet the pastor and witness the camp hosted there. Everyone in attendance had a contagious energy. Upon arrival at the church, another intern and I were greeted by the pastor, who volunteered some of the campers to help bag and organize the produce donated by the local food bank.
At some point, one of the children stated that they did not know what a zucchini was. Some of the other kids laughed in disbelief. Attempting to diffuse the laughter and encourage the child, I said, “That’s okay! That’s why we’re here! Now you know what a zucchini is.”
The whole event was great. We shared educational materials and conversed with the kids. But that moment of turning a negative situation into a positive learning experience was the one that amplified the purpose of this giveaway. We ended the event taking pictures while shouting “Zucchini!,” “Squash!,” and “Sweet potatoes!” for the camera.
“Even during the busiest days, there was never a day that I did not smile or laugh whether in the office or in the field.”
During this internship, I met many new faces, made a few friends, stepped out of my comfort zone, and worked on projects I would not have expected to be a part of. I learned about the Summer Nutrition Program, and about myself and the many ways that one can be involved in addressing food insecurity. I am very lucky to have worked with the nutrition team at Pitt County Schools. Even during the busiest days, there was never a day that I did not smile or laugh whether in the office or in the field. I would encourage others to apply for this internship.
Cynthia Sharpe is completing a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health.