Today is World Food Day, where 150 countries work together to raise awareness and encourage action for hunger around the world. The best way to get involved is to start local, and tackle issues in your community! We caught up with co-founder Shawnee Knight, who founded FITB eight years ago to make a change in her community.
As a formally trained chef who was in a free and reduced school lunch program as a child herself, she brings a unique perspective and passion for food to her work.
Shawnee knows firsthand that kids in FITB’s Weekend Meal Program are getting more than just food; they’re getting a piece of their family routines back. A passion for cooking runs through her family, and sitting down for a family meal was an important tradition that sparked Shawnee’s passion for food:
"I have been passionate about cooking since I was in 3rd or 4th grade. My grandmother was a baker and candy maker, and my younger brother has a restaurant in Miami. I guess it’s in my DNA? I have always loved to feed people and as a family, we sit down almost every night for family dinner."
When they started FITB, co-founders and friends Shawnee Knight and Tina Kramer knew about the need for food in their community and started small by providing meals to kids on local sports teams. As they got more involved in the work, the scale of food insecurity and the number of children going hungry in their community surprised them and continues to motivate them to find new ways to expand the program to reach even more kids in need.
“We did some research and learned about hunger, which was happening right in our community. We both are from modest upbringings; I was a kid that was on the free and reduced lunch program and can relate. The thought that kids were going hungry in our community broke our hearts. Everyone can relate to food on some level; it is what fuels our minds and bodies. When we started this, I don’t think we knew what it would evolve into or truly knew the need.”
Unlike federal assistance programs, kids in FITB’s Weekend Meal Program receive meals the same week they sign up. Shawnee’s love for food and culinary knowledge helps inform what items are most helpful to include in the Weekend Meal bags - because nutritious meals are only healthy if kids will actually eat them!
“Having a love for food and knowledge about cooking, I look at the items and think, what could someone make with this? Before COVID, we did a focus group with a great group of middle school students in our program. It was exciting to create recipes for the kids we serve and show them how to prepare the food in the weekend meal bags with fun and creativity. You can make something yummy on a budget and without a lot of ingredients.”
The COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges for FITB, and they had to get creative to overcome them. When supply chain issues made it difficult to get the items they wanted for the Weekend Meal Bags, they made sure to get input from kids in the program on new items:
"The most complex thing about providing food in our nonprofit space is providing something the kids will like that is healthy, shelf-stable, and not too heavy to carry home from school. This past year we have faced challenges in the supply chain and getting items that we want. So we got creative and would send new foods to schools and have remote focus groups with the kids. The students would taste test and report back what they liked and didn’t like. This would help us when deciding what to include in the Weekend Meal Bags."
The meals in our program are chef-inspired, nutritionist-approved, and kid-tested! We are grateful every day for our community for supporting our mission to bring a little joy to local kids in need. Some day we hope our services are no longer needed, but until then we’ll be working hard to reach as many hungry kids as we can.
This year with your support we expanded to reach 16 additional schools in CT and NY, and you can help us reach even more next year. Consider making a donation, hosting a fundraiser or food drive to tackle hunger in your local community.