Meal-bag program chosen for ‘Fix-It’ funds

February 25, 2016

The Take Home Meal Bag Project — a Burlington Children’s Space program offering food-insecure families a weekly bag of food and recipes — is this year’s recipient of a $10,000 grant through the “Fix it With Five” program, funded and administered by Saint Michael’s students.

The grant-program name derives from its process of extracting $5 from the tuition fees of each of Saint Michael’s College’s 2,000-plus students.

Alix Lara ‘16, student chair for a Fix It With Five (FIWF) Committee that narrows the field to finalists among numerous local agencies applying for funds, calls the program “a unique opportunity to make a significant impact in the success of a non-profit that works for positive systemic change in society.” The entire student body was invited to vote last week for one among three finalists.

Along with the weekly bag of food ingredients that local families receive through the Take Home Meal Bag Project, they also get recipes suggesting how those ingredients can be put together into meals for a family to cook and eat together. “This teaches families how to be resourceful, try new foods, eat healthily, and strengthen family bonds,” said Lara. “It enforces good nutritional habits and skills for the future.”

Lara, a senior from Hamilton, MA, studying environmental studies with a minor in biology, got involved with FIWF as a first-year-student, assuming more responsibility since. “I’m excited to see how the grant will continue to positively impact our community in the future,” she said.

On Tuesday morning, Feb. 23, the committee counted about 400 ballots from last week’s voting, and the grant recipient was approved by the Student Association that night. The winner was notified early Wednesday morning.

“Many students were passionate about the Food Bag Project because they understand that you cannot function without food,” Lara said. “Food insecurity is a huge issue in Vermont, and by selecting the Food Bag Project, Saint Michael’s College is showing their commitment to raising awareness about the issue, and being a part of the solution.”

The next step is to present the grant to the Burlington Children’s Space (BCS). “Traditionally, we present the check to the grant recipient at our Community Partner’s Breakfast on campus,” Lara said. “But, since the breakfast is not for another couple of months, we are working with the Executive Director of BCS to present the grant at one of their “family dinners” in a couple of weeks.”

The Fix it With Five Program is seven years old. Previous grant recipients include Spectrum Youth and Family Services, the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), the Boys and Girl Club, the Visiting Nurse Association, the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative, and Women Helping Battered Women.

Lara said in addition to the large grant, students will be encouraged to get involved personally with the Food Bag Project as volunteers. “We ask the grant recipient to foster some kind of relationship with Saint Michael’s College, so there will be more information about future involvement in a couple of months,” she said.

“The systemic societal issue that the Burlington Children’s Space is working to overcome through this program is food insecurity,” Lara said. “One in six children in Vermont is food insecure, and going to school hungry leads to more social conflicts, inability to focus, frequent illness, and possible long term developmental delays. By selecting the Food Bag Project as the grant recipient, we are committing to being a part of the solution to food insecurity in Vermont.”

Fix it With Five encourages non-profit organizations from the greater Burlington community to apply for grants. The grant for 2015 was awarded to Women Helping Battered Women, which has evolved into the largest service provider for domestic abuse victims in Vermont, serving Chittenden County. Other finalists for 2016 were the Foster Grandparent Program and the Step Into Work Program.

Fix It With Five’s website explicitly relates the program to the wider mission of Saint Michael’s College: “It is the mission of the … committee to promote systemic and permanent change through an annual grant to a local community-based organization demonstrating this same commitment. Following the Saint Michael’s College mission of social justice, this student-led and student-funded program aims to alleviate a condition leading to the degradation of human dignity. Through the grant process, Fix it with Five seeks to heighten awareness about pressing social problems which ultimately affect us all and to educate both the college and surrounding communities about organizations working in constructive ways to strengthen our community.  Fix It With Five began with the idea that college students could use five dollars often spent on pizza or movies and apply it towards a meaningful community contribution.”

The FIWF committee of student members, guided by staff advisers, is responsible for contacting local non-profit organizations, accepting and reading application letters and agreeing on finalist organizations before turning the final vote to the Saint Michael’s College student body.

Other committee members this year are Tylik Prince ’16, a senior business major from Brooklyn, NY; Marissa Kelemen’18, a sophomore biology major from Richmond, VT; John Doddy ’16, a senior political science major from Pleasantville NY; and Emma Woodruff ’18 a double major in Secondary Education and English, from Grand Rapids, MI, and Joseph Mendes, a sophomore history major from Southwick, MA. Staff advisers are Katherine Hackett’11 from the Admission Office and Joan Wagner, director of community-engaged learning and coordinator of experiential learning.

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