Summer AmeriCorps VISTA and Fellowship Program Report 2019

09.05.2019

Introduction

The 2019 Hunger Free America (HFA) Summer Fellowship (funded by the Walmart Foundation) and AmeriCorps VISTA summer program (funded by the Walmart Foundation, Share Our Strength, and the federal government) was a great success. A total of 27 Fellows and VISTA Summer Associates were engaged at sites across the county, and took part in Summer Meals outreach and program deliver, lead activities for children at Summer Meals sites, raised awareness on nutrition benefits programs, and contributed to Farmers Market programming. Our team of seven VISTA Summer Associates based at Hunger Free America’s offices handed out approximately 50,000 fliers in low-income neighborhoods of New York City, and over the course of the summer, HFA's Summer Fellows and VISTA members enabled the federal summer meals program to served approx. 65,000 meals to children nationwide in 2018! In this report, HFA Fellows, VISTA Summer Associates, and their supervisors share their perspective on this summer’s program.

Program Locations

This summer, the AmeriCorps Summer Associate program had 13 participating Summer Associates at 4 different sites in New York and California. These included 3 Summer Associates at Growly, 1 Summer Associate at the Jamestown YMCA in Jamestown, NY, 2 Summer Associates at Feeding San Diego in California, and 7 Summer Associates at Hunger Free America.

The HFA Fellowship Program had 14 participating Fellows at 7 different sites across the country. These included 1 Fellow at Hunger Free America, 2 Fellows at Children’s Hunger Alliance in, Ohio, 2 Fellows at Open Arms Minnesota, 2 Fellows at Impact to End Hunger in Florida, 2 Fellows at Star of the Sea in Florida, 2 Fellows at Peacemakers of Rocky Mount in North Carolina, and 3 Fellows at New Heights Summer Camp in Oklahoma.

Highlights of the Summer

HFA Fellows and VISTA Summer Associates also shared their personal highlights of the summer, as well as how they thought they made an impact on their communities. Some highlights of the summer included conducting fun nutrition activities for kids, getting to be a role model for children, volunteering at an urban farm, canvassing in receptive areas, conducting site visits, and giving out information and prizes to summer meal participants. HFA Fellows and VISTA Summer Associates often noted that their biggest impacts were in providing benefits access information and empowering community members with knowledge about nutrition programs. What they saw as highlights and their biggest contributions of the summer are shared below:

I enjoyed canvassing “in Brooklyn and Harlem because people were interested into the information about the free meals and we got to meet different kids at those sites as well. I think just going to the different parks and schools that provided these free meals and seeing the kids eat the meals was the largest impact on the different sites/communities.”

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Photo by Neil Kramer

I think my greatest contribution was my passion to help with food insecurity. This passion led me to reach out and advertise the summer meals programs to many other community organizations. Due to our vast outreach across the metropolitan area we were able to feed a lot more children who may not have much to eat otherwise.”

How Sites Benefited

Organizations that hosted HFA Fellows and VISTA Summer Associates shared how they benefited from having extra help to conduct summer hunger work. These included helping with program administration, compliance and monitoring, increasing attendance at Summer Meals Sites, increasing the reach of benefits access programming, collecting data, and conducting fun activities for children at the site. 

“Our summer VISTAs have been such a wonderful help.  We would not have been able to keep up with the increased monitoring requirements and be in compliance with the program regulations without the VISTAs. Additionally, the interns have helped us, as a sponsor, prepare for our state audit, which has been relatively smooth sailing so far thanks to the VISTAs!  We would not have been able to operate at the same capacity that we were at this summer without them. Feeding San Diego would definitely welcome VISTA Summer Associates in future summers.”

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Photo by Neil Kramer

"Our HFA Fellows were a tremendous benefit to all 5 sites they served. The Fellows were responsible for planning and coordinating enrichment activities for the children, along with driving an outreach campaign for Summer BreakSpot. The programming ran every day (1 hour per site per day) by the Fellows helped keep kids' bodies and minds active throughout the summer. This work was conducted in low-income inner-city neighborhoods where many children do not have access to safe summer programs. Additionally, by running these activities one hour prior to meal service, we were able to ensure that children in each neighborhood were in the right place, at the right time every day for lunch.”

Stories From Fellows/VISTA Summer Associates

HFA Fellows and VISTA Summer Associates were asked to share photos and anecdotes about their experience fighting hunger this summer. Some highlights are included below:

“The simple experience of frequently seeing farmers market customers react with a sense of hope and relief upon learning that they can use their EBT/SNAP benefits at the farmers markets (and get a Health Buck 2$ bonus coupon for every 5$ spent) has been memorable and meaningful. It has made me very interested in researching the history of SNAP in our country, as well as currency and management systems at farmers markets nationwide. I have come to see farmers markets as a level playing field for all, regardless of background and ability, to access fresh and healthy food, resources and information; they are a model for societal equity.”

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“I went to a site in Harlem with another Summer Associate and went to a food pantry to help out with their soup kitchen. There were a lot of older people who were at the food pantry trying to get canned goods and other groceries. This touched me because like I didn't know how many elderly people relied on the food pantries because they barely have money to eat. It made me feel more grateful for life and to have food everyday, because there are a lot of people who go without.”