Brookline Thrives and the Food Justice Club fight food insecurity

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GRAPHIC BY ZOE TSENG

According to The Brookline Community Foundation, the number of households earning under 20,000 dollars is growing, and the issue of food insecurity is becoming increasingly prevalent.

The Food Justice Justice Club at BHS and Brookline Thrives are two groups that focus on combating these issues in the town. The Food Justice Club strives to educate others on how food intersects with society in terms of race, class, geography, climate and health. Brookline Thrives, which is part of the Brookline Food Pantry, combats food insecurity by providing bags of food for students over the weekend who don’t have access to adequate meals at home. These bags consist of two breakfast items, two lunch items, four snacks and two shelf stable boxes of milk and fruit.

According to founder and Program Manager of Brookline Thrives Kim Kushner, the program is completely run by volunteers. She said that without healthy meals, students’ ability to learn and socialize is negatively affected.

“The Thrives mission is really focused on students, and trying to ensure that our students are returning to school Monday morning better prepared to learn, because they have had adequate food over the weekend,” Kushner said.

The program packages around 240 bags every Wednesday and Thursday, and all meals are single served and can be eaten and heated in their container. Bags are delivered to the public elementary schools for pickup.

The items in the bag change every week, and meals can be individually customized to suit dietary restrictions such as the eight major allergens, or other food preferences.

According to Kushner, families do not need to prove their financial need in order to receive a bag.

“It is our opinion that it is up to a family to determine what is beneficial to them,” Kushner said. “There are lots of things that happen in families’ lives that have nothing to do with economics, that could be short term stresses or long term or systemic issues where a program like Thrives could be beneficial and alleviate some strain on the household over the weekend.”

To illuminate the magnitude of food insecurity in Brookline, Kushner explained that almost 14 percent of students received free and reduced meals in the 2018-19 school year, meaning more than 1100 out of 8500 students. However, that is based on the federal cut off requirement for financial aid.

“When I speak with school administrators, nurses, guidance counselors, their best guess is if the program was based on the cost of living in Brookline financial cutoff only, that participation level would be at almost 20 percent,” Kushner said.

Kushner added that the 14 percent of recorded students does not consider that there are also some families who are in need of assistance but do not apply.

“Not all families who could qualify actually apply for free and reduced meals, and some because they cannot since they don’t have the appropriate documentation or they are afraid or they don’t want to be on a list,” Kushner said.

Junior Tysen Klaus, who volunteers at Brookline Thrives said he’s learned a lot about the Brookline community through working with Thrives.

“Brookline is such a wealthy place that you would never think that there are children going home with ,” Klaus said.

Junior Caroline Andersen, who also volunteers with Brookline Thrives, said not only has the program been an eye-opener for her, but it’s also been a great way to meet other people in the community.

“I think the friendships you make, the community of Brookline Thrives, all the members who come, it’s really fun and refreshing to come every Wednesday like there’s always good conversations going around,” Andersen said. “It’s interesting to talk to different people who all have the same interest in helping the community.”

While Brookline Thrives aims to provide food for students who need it, the Food Justice Club focuses on spreading awareness. According to club leaders, seniors Grace Sokolow and Gigi Walsh, the club has worked with the Brookline Food Pantry, which in turn helps Brookline Thrives since the food and money donated can allow Thrives to purchase the meals they need.

“We are always looking for ways to connect with local organizations that do different things all related to food justice because it’s helpful for us to go learn from the organizations and I think they can also learn from us,” Sokolow said.

Within the student community, the Food Justice club spreads awareness by holding an annual school wide food drive to support the Brookline Food Pantry.

“ consists of an educational assembly on food insecurity on a more national level as well as a more local level in Brookline, and then that assembly is followed by an advisory based food drive. There is kind of an educational component and an end action contribution component,” Walsh said.

Though Food Justice Club and Thrives have different ways of addressing food insecurity in Brookline, Kushner highlighted that it is important to be aware of the community and to look out for one’s neighbor.

“We actually have a growing population of lower-income households in Brookline and people always think Brookline is a very wealthy community and that’s just not the current state of our town. That’s not a bad thing,” Kushner said. “It just means we need to be aware of who’s living here and the needs, and to be respectful of that as well.”