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SmartBites bridges the hunger gap that some children face at school. A program of Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, SmartBites provides nutritious snacks to more than 18,000 elementary school students who arrive at school hungry or face midday hunger, helping them to focus and fully participate during school and in afterschool activities. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Gleaners Youth and Nutrition Manager Winona Bynum: The program is so simple: young people simply cannot learn, grow, or play without good and adequate food available. Many young people rely on free or reduced lunch for the nutrition needed to make it through the school day. But what happens if that child wants to participate in an afterschool activity such as tutoring or other enrichment programs? That child needs something to bridge the gap – that is where the SmartBites program comes in to play. The program provides schools with healthy snacks that they can in-turn provide at no cost to a child so that they are able to take full advantage of afterschool programs offered.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
I’m always amazed at the generosity in our community. We have individuals, small organizations, and large corporations who have stepped up to support the program with their money, time or both.
We don’t have the Gleaners staff required to pack SmartBites for all of the schools we support -- each pallet of snacks is
We currently have over 30 schools located in Wayne and Oakland counties on the waiting list that need the program to help their students.
designed to support a school for a month -- so we rely on volunteers. Therefore, SmartBites are packed by young people who participate in our youth volunteer program, Kids Helping Kids. Some of the kids are from schools that receive the SmartBites. We’ve also had community members of all ages -- boy and girl scout troops, sports teams, etc, -- raise money or hold food drives to specifically to support the program. Then there is support from the business community and foundations in the form of grants, donation of snacks, or reduced purchase price for the food we purchase for the program, all which makes the program possible to continue.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
That there is such a need for the program. and we don’t have the resources to help everyone who needs it. We currently have over 30 schools located in Wayne and Oakland counties on the waiting list that need the program to help their students. Some of the schools have been on the waiting list for over a year. We have a first-come, first-served policy; however, in the event of receiving applications at the same time, we give preference to schools based on programming, number of students participating in the programs, and need as indicated by the numbers of students who participate in the free school lunch program. Recently, we were able to include a school in the program that had been on the waiting since last school year due to the generous support of a donor. That is why we are so grateful for all of the support we receive.
What really differentiates this program?
The first thing that comes to mind is that there aren’t a lot of hoops for a deserving school to jump through. We help as many
SmartBites helps to bridge the gap between the children who have access to resources and those who do not.
schools with students in need as we have the capacity to help. SmartBites are used to support young people in the more traditional extra-curricular programs and clubs. They are also used to support kids participating in homework clinics, media centers, after-school tutoring, math and English Language Arts intervention classes, and enrichment programs of all kinds.
What are the keys to success for your program?
It comes back to support: the program would not exist without support of the donors and volunteers. It takes the thousands of community members of all ages generously providing their time and money. We also have support of Gleaners team members from the wonderful program coordinators who facilitate the groups in packing SmartBites to our operations staff who make sure the healthy snacks are delivered to the schools.
How does your program address issues of equity -- economic, educational, racial, etc.?
SmartBites helps to bridge the gap between the children who have access to resources and those who do not. The program removes one more obstacle to children being able to engage in positive activities that will shape their lives and help them to grow.
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