Help Foster Youth Students Address Food Insecurity
Foster Nation’s Meal Nation program fights food insecurity for LA’s most vulnerable population - older foster youth. Many students don’t have access to the food resources they relied on before campus closures, and they have also lost critical income due to impacts of the pandemic. We know that having a meal is essential to educational success. Our goal is to ensure foster youth have at least one meal a day for 30-60 days, and the know-how to access public benefits like CalFresh in order to help them meet their basic needs beyond this program.
Describe the mission of your organization.
Foster Nation engages and empowers the community to help foster youth aging out of the system become self-sufficient adults by providing financial resources, social support and mentorship.
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
- Central LA
- East LA
- San Gabriel Valley
- San Fernando Valley
- South LA
- South Bay
- Antelope Valley
- Other:: Currently exploring partnership with LACOE's Community Schools (15)
What is the problem that you are seeking to address?
Foster youth are in the highest need bracket when it comes to accessing resources during the COVID-19 crisis. In a virtual town hall for foster youth hosted in March 2020, by John Burton Advocates for Youth, Children’s Bureau and Think of Us, access to food was identified as the number one priority for transition-age foster youth. Due to the lockdown and campus closures across the nation, foster youth students have lost critical sources of income and access to food because students no longer have access to the on-campus jobs, meal vouchers and pantries they relied on for daily sustenance. Within the first few weeks of the lockdown, it became apparent that foster youth students were disproportionately affected by this pandemic, much more than their peers who had familial ties or support networks to turn to.
Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.
Meal Nation provides foster youth students with a meal a day for 30-60 days and helps foster youth access CalFresh. Our program includes 3 key components: meal delivery, meal pick-up, grocery gift cards. The program is entirely free to participants, and the average meal cost is $8.50. We work alongside our program partners Freshly, Not Impossible Labs (NIL), Rise and Guardian Scholars, college campus support programs for foster youth. Prioritizing nutritious food was important because we recognized this might be the only meal a student has access to on any given day. We partnered with Freshly to deliver healthy prepared meals weekly to youth with stable housing that lack access to transportation. Our partnership with NIL leverages technology that allows foster youth to order healthy meals from thousands of local restaurants using basic text messaging. This serves students without stable housing who may be living in their car or in a shelter. To see the model and technology, visit bit.ly/fosternil. The grocery card option provides a weekly $50 e-grocery card to students with dietary restrictions or other special needs, and we require grocery receipts before we issue a new card. We realize 30-60 days of meals will not solve food insecurity for this population, so our partnership with the nonprofit Rise provides Student Navigators who give 1:1 assistance with CalFresh enrollment to ensure our participants have a long-term solution to address hunger.
In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)
Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?
- Direct impact
- Indirect impact
Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.
Foster youth in LA County were already experiencing a high prevalence of food insecurity and the pandemic only made the situation worse. Our intended impact is to address food insecurity in an immediate and long-term way. LA County is responsible for the welfare of foster youth – and has the largest foster youth population in the country. We all must ensure that foster youth have equitable opportunities to thrive. The impact of this program empowers LA County to remove barriers to success so that foster youth can focus on what matters most: getting an education and finding a career path in order to lead self-sufficient lives. Our program exemplifies a model of how we can support foster youth and create a healthier and more hopeful Los Angeles for people to move from just surviving to thriving – from impossible to I’m possible.
What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?
Meal Nation measures its program outcomes by collecting feedback directly from foster youth students 25 days into receiving meals, and again when they exit the program. In order to assess our work and ensure quality service-delivery, we ask our students to provide feedback on several key measures: food quality, enrollment, level of anxiety around hunger, motivation to stay in school, whether they feel cared for and supported, and whether the program had an impact on their lives. We also provide an open-ended question for foster youth to share how the service can be improved. The program has served over 1,300 unique foster youth across California, and based on survey responses, 89% of foster youth say that the program decreased their anxiety about where their next meal was coming from. 86% say the program helped them stay motivated to keep up with schoolwork. 95% say the program made them feel cared for and supported. And 86% say the program had a positive impact on their lives.
Which of the live metrics will you impact?
- Access to healthy food
- Food insecurity
Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.
- LA is the best place to LEARN
Garden School Foundation
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