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ADELPHI — In their latest outreach effort to the Capital Area Food Bank, State Farm was able to donate $25,000 to the organization this past December for food donations and $5,000 to feed families at local underserved elementary schools.
The State Farm members’ volunteer work at the Capital Area Food Bank was spearheaded by Sales Leader Natalie Tusing. Four years ago, she and her State Farm agents were looking for a way to give back to the community and feeding the D.C. area resonated with them. They then found the Capital Area Food Bank and have been volunteering at least two to four times a year ever since.
“Whenever you volunteer you think you’re helping other people but it really turns out to strengthen your own heart,” Tusing said. “You think you’re giving back but it fills your whole heart and spirit and what I’ve seen by us doing this together is it builds a lot of culture for us. We have a blast, we have so much fun. It helps us interact but it also really just makes us feel better.”
They have also done food drives, and when customers donate to a charity State Farm will double it. Because of these volunteer efforts, the company as a whole was able to give the $25,000 to the food bank in December.
With every dollar donated able to provide two and a half meals, State Farm’s most recent donation allows the food bank to distribute 62,500 meals to low-income households in Washington, D.C., suburban Maryland and northern Virginia.
“It’s an opportunity to financially make an impact,” said State Farm Public Affairs Specialist Dwayne Redd. “We wanted to give financial resources and we had the opportunity to do that.”
In addition to the $25,000 donation, State Farm’s Good Neighbor Citizenship Grant Program, which provide grants to local organizations, has been a supporter of the the food bank’s Brighter Bites Program for the last four years and donated $5,000 last month.
Started six years ago by a Texas woman who wanted to bring healthy food to underserved students after seeing a change in her own children after switching to healthier food options, Brighter Bites supports schools in the Houston, Dallas, Austin, New York City, Southwest Florida and Washington, D.C. areas with the goal of bringing fruits and vegetables to Title I schools and schools where 80 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch.
During the 2018-2019 school year, the Brighter Bites has been implemented in five Prince George’s County Schools: William Paca Elementary School, Cool Springs Elementary School, Adelphi Elementary School, Beacon Heights Elementary School and Dodge Park Elementary School.
In 2018, Brighter Bites distributed 242,540 lbs to 1,077 families and teachers at five schools and two summer programs, a total of seven sites, in Prince George’s County alone, said Director of Marketing Communications Stefanie Cousins.
Over eight weeks in the fall and eight weeks in the spring, Brighter Bites drops off food donated by the Capital Area Food Bank and the Laurel-based Coastal Sunbelt Produce company at each school once a week. They will typically bring about 5,000 pounds of fresh food to each school and the items are bagged in assembly line fashion by parent and community volunteers in the cafeteria or gymnasium.
Families can come and pick up the food when they pick up their children at the end of the day. They receive two bags of produce, totaling about 25 pounds which can make up to 50-60 servings. In addition to the food, Brighter Bites provides kid friendly recipe ideas, tips on how to purchase and prepare the food and nutrition facts on each item. They also provide recipe samples on distribution day.
“The idea is to give families so much produce that they see it all the time, they incorporate it into their meals, the parents send it to school with their kids or they use it for breakfast or dinner or snacks,” said Cousins. “We’re really trying to just help families who don’t use a lot of produce in their meals use much more and really crowding out the junk food and replacing it with something healthy and fresh.”
Not only does Brighter Bites supply food to the families, but they ensure that nutritional lessons are implemented into the school curriculum through Coordinated Approach To Child Health (CATCH) to create a lifestyle of healthy eating.
CATCH is an evidence-based nutrition education and physical activity curriculum that is recommended to all schools, however, underserved schools may not use it due to lack of resources.
Brighter Bites steps in to ensure that the teachers not only know how to and are able to use the curriculum in their classrooms, but they supply the teachers with food bags each week as well. It allows the teachers to be involved in healthy eating and be excited about incorporating it into their lessons.
“We believe that Brighter Bites only works if you’re doing a curriculum in school that supports nutrition education because we’re really trying to link the home and school community through fresh produce,” Cousins said.
State Farm’s contribution to the Brighter Bites Program has been able to increase over the four years that State Farm has been working with the food bank. According to Redd, the first year they were only able to donate $1,000 while this year they were able to donate $5,000.
“It’s an opportunity to basically support organizations but give the kids impacted the opportunity for a quality education and make sure they have a positive educational experience and give them an opportunity to be productive so they are not falling behind,” Redd said.