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Bonner Leaders combat unhealthy summer habits with tailor-made toolkits

May 23, 2019 • Erin Reitz • No Comments

For some local children, summer vacation brings more stress than relaxation. Three months without classes also means going without dependable meals.

In Chapel Hill and Carrboro more than 2,600 children live in food insecure homes. They often go hungry, eat less, or eat less nutritious food because they can’t afford to eat better. Nesreen Abu Khalaf (pictured above)  and Tochi Okeke, two junior UNC Bonner Leaders, have worked more than one thousand hours supporting and serving these children; and this year, they’re extending their efforts into the summer months with tailor-made toolkits.

When Abu Khalaf and Okeke joined the Bonner Leaders Program as first years at Carolina, they were matched with TABLE, a local nonprofit committed to providing emergency food aid and nutrition education to local hungry kids. During their three years working at TABLE, Abu Khalaf and Okeke have explored how to contribute their time and energy to Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s food insecure families in ethical, community-focused and sustainable ways.

“What appealed to me about Bonner Leaders Program was the four-year commitment because community partners need long-term support and meaningful contributions,” Abu Khalaf said. “I was specifically interested in TABLE because I want to increase opportunities for all youth, and they can’t go far when they’re hungry.”

As Bonner interns, Abu Khalaf and Okeke have taken on roles of increasing responsibility, advancing from doing administrative tasks and manual labor during their first years to designing curriculum, leading classes, and spearheading independent projects, like this year’s SnackChef Summer Toolkits.

TABLE’s SnackChef program provides monthly nutrition education to 325 elementary and middle schoolers during the school year. Through games and hands-on recipe tutorials, students learn important lessons such as how to read a nutrition label and how to make a nutrient rich snack.

“Being a SnackChef instructor challenged me to make health information fun, exciting, and understandable to a population that is often excluded,” said Okeke. “It was most exciting to see the kids’ faces light up when we introduced a fun recipe, or when a child, initially reluctant to try a new food, ended up enjoying it.

This hour-long after school program is an important complement to TABLE’s food distribution efforts. SnackChef instructors provide children with the food they need while also empowering them to make healthy decisions outside of their care.

Abu Khalaf and Okeke experienced the positive impact that the program had on participants during the school year, but they wanted to extend its effectiveness into the summer months. During the summer, students are more likely to fall into unhealthy habits. The two Bonners received funding from the Carolina Center for Public Service’s MacDonalad Community Fellowship grant and the Campus Y Fund to create 150 boxes that contained jump ropes, chalk, colored pencils, water bottles, and tomato plant starter kits for SnackChef students’ summer breaks.

Okeke graphic designed an activity booklet to put in the SnackChef Summer Toolkits.
The SnackChef Summer Toolkits included a healthy summer guide designed by Okeke that has games, activities, and nutrition education resources for scholars to use along with the kits.

“The SnackChef Summer Toolkits will be invaluable to the children that we serve,” said Michelle Perry, TABLE’s Program Associate. “Many of these kids are stuck at home during the summer and unable to afford camp. These toolkits will provide fun and educational activities for them to do at home all while reinforcing many of things we learned this past year in SnackChef!”

Through the Bonner Leaders Program, Abu Khalaf and Okeke have been able to explore and investigate community challenges, like food insecurity. This long-term, holistic service model enables them to confront problems and see themselves as part of the solution. The SnackChef Summer Toolkits are just a small effort towards the grander goal of ensuring equitable health for everyone in their community.

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