Department of Agriculture awards grant to Food 4 Life

A Food 4 Life nutrition program participant cooks a stir fry dish

Lantern Community Services is one of just 33 organizations nationally to receive a 2016 Community Food Project grant from the US Department of Agriculture. USDA selected projects that will “foster self-sustaining solutions that help make healthy foods available to families living in low-income neighborhoods.”

Our grant will fund research and development of our Food 4 Life nutrition curriculum for young adults. This nutrition, budgeting and cooking program is specifically designed for Lantern’s young adults, who overuse costly and unhealthy prepared food, often go hungry, and face a future of food insecurity and poor nutrition. USDA’s grant means we can spend a year designing, testing and refining the curriculum in partnership with our young adults, turning it into a robust, evidence-informed resource that can be shared with other supportive housing providers across the country.

Over the summer, we conducted a small pilot of the program at Schafer Hall, with funding from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the Vincent Mulford Foundation. Held on Wednesday evenings, the classes were designed to emulate a family cooking together in a kitchen, with each person taking on a share of the work – chopping, steaming, sautéing, measuring and mixing. Our instructor, Whitney Reuling, tested out a range of topics, including “The Incredible Egg,” “Exploring Pasta” “Smart Shopping,” and “One Pot meals.” Each class began with a quick talk, covering issues such as whole versus processed foods, minimizing meat consumption and its environmental impact, health and the budget, and the benefits of whole grains.

While culinary education is key, both our Director of Nutrition, Peggy Leggat, and Schafer Program Director Brian Dickerson, say that the classes became much more than that. Food 4 Life is harnessing the power of food and a shared meal to bring young people together.

I think the takeaway is that the class is uniting and therapeutic. Working together with each other and the communal portion of eating together is awesome! [There was] a lot  of sharing, and others looking out for each other, discussing job leads and esteeming each other. [I saw] the power of peers and young people who have endured the trauma of foster care placement and the unspoken bond they share, and the triumph of them being in this moment together – survivors!

Brian Dickerson, Senior Program Director, Schafer & Prospero

We’ve learnt that cooking together offers a space where the young adults help each other and look out for each other. This kind of social support is important for all of us, but especially for these young adults who have spent their lives in foster care and group homes. We’ve found that the best way to appeal to our young adults is through taste, engaging everyone at the same time in some sort of activity, and building on knowledge that they already have. We’ll be taking that early learning into developing our new Food 4 Life curriculum.

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