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A delicate balancing act

By Joe Skelly, Logistics Associate at Every Meal

“Am I going to get one today?”

That’s the question a young girl asked me while I was at a Minneapolis school helping to distribute meal bags in students’ backpacks so they’d have food for the weekend.

Only a few weeks into joining Every Meal as a Logistics Associate, I directly experienced the mission of fighting child hunger when I heard this simple request for food.

In early February 2022, I started working at Every Meal with the Supply Chain team, building food orders in the warehouse and delivering pallets of food to schools. I was amazed at how quickly the pounds of food and number of meals added up. The reality quickly hit that for every meal bag that goes out our door, there’s a child who is living with food insecurity.

That took a deeper meaning for me in March when I attended a meal bag distribution at a Minneapolis school. I went with another one of my coworkers, Ariel from the Operations team. While the students were in class, we navigated through the school hallways, stopping by the lockers of every child who was signed up for our Weekend Food Program. We filled backpacks one by one, carefully making sure we placed the correct meal bag type each student had chosen based on their dietary preferences and needs. Knowing that each kid would have nourishing meals over the weekend, I couldn’t help but feel like Santa Clause dropping off presents. 

But during my good cheer, things took an unexpected turn when we came to one of the lockers. As we were about to open it, a teacher came out to tell us to not place a meal bag in that student’s backpack because he was not taking it home. I kept wondering why as we continued making our stop through the rest of the kid’s lockers.

We mentioned this encounter to the school social worker. She knew who the student was based on the locker number and informed us that he didn’t want to carry the food home. He was a smaller kid and the weight of the meal bag made it uncomfortable to carry the backpack. At 4-5 pounds, Every Meal is constantly evaluating our meal bags to make sure they are not only lighter in weight but also safe to transport home and full of good food. The social worker noted that she planned to connect with the student’s mother to facilitate a successful transfer of the meal bags to her in the future.

We were nearing the end of our meal bag distributions when a young girl arriving late to school noticed us packing a locker close to hers and asked:

“Am I going to get one today?”

With an extra meal bag on our hands, we let her know that we would be happy to give one to her. She told us she used to get these meal bags at her previous school. We made sure to also let the social worker know this so she could be added to the list to receive meal bags every week.

The school social worker was very appreciative of our efforts. She noticed how happy the students were to be back in school with their classmates and teachers after the Minneapolis teacher’s strike. “School is a safe place they can count on, and for some the only safe place,” she said.

Getting enough to eat and feeling safe – that’s the harsh reality. Some children right here in our community are struggling to get these basics of life met.

Through this encounter, I got insight into the balancing act that children and schools are experiencing. All throughout life, we are trying to balance many competing desires, interests, and external forces. In our society of plenty, children shouldn’t have to wonder when they’ll get their next meal or teeter on the edge of hunger. Through the combined efforts of people in our community from school staff to volunteers to donors and everyone in between, Every Meal is a positive, stabilizing force in meeting these basic challenges that children are facing.