The phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is taking on a literal meaning at many Shelby County Schools.
SCS is participating in a program called Breakfast in the Classroom for students who may otherwise not receive the proper nutrition at home. The program’s approach is unique because it moves breakfast from the lunchroom to the classroom.
Kristin Odommayes, cafeteria manager at Douglass Elementary School, says the new program not only provides more nutrients for students, but also teaches them to eat healthier. “They’re learning to pick the best food choices,” Odommayes said. “I want them to go home and be able to still know what’s healthy and what’s not.”
Food insecurity is a nationwide problem that can affect how well students learn. In 2014, 15.3 million children around the nation lived in households that struggled with hunger.
Photo of Danielle
Michelle Stevens is a foster care case worker at Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home and the adoptive mom of two children. Pictures of her daughter Danielle and her son Riley are all around her office. Families come to TBCH for temporary placement of their children, while the Department of Children’s Services comes to TBCH to place children in foster families.
Letters from TBCH children
There are five cottages at TBCH with parents that live in each cottage with the children. Volunteers, visiting families, tutors and recreational helpers are always needed and welcomed. The children draw, paint and write notes to show the workers their love.
After work, Stevens comes home to spend time with her daughter, son and dog. Danielle, 7, is a ball of energy. She especially enjoys spending time with her mom and dog, Little Mister.
Danielle plays with her toys
As a single woman, Stevens decided to foster children. However, after having her first foster baby, Danielle, for 19 months, she realized she couldn’t part with her daughter. Danielle has several buckets of toys, but her favorites are her Barbie dolls.
Danielle plays pretend with her dolls. Danielle, born prematurely, weighed four pounds when Stevens took her home from the hospital. She is an affectionate child and likes to give “squeezy” hugs.
Michelle teaches Riley
Riley, 5, enjoys watching the Memphis Tigers football team. One day, he hopes to be a kicker for the team.
Trying to take a family photo
“When you have kids, your life is not your own,” Stevens said. “They are the greatest gifts.” Stevens said she wants the children to have a wonderful father and a husband. However, she’s careful because the children get attached to people easily and she doesn’t want to break their hearts.
Faith Baptist Church hosted their annual 1< [less] Orphan 5K to raise money for the Memphis Family Connection Center and the church’s Lifesong adoption grant fund of $10,000 for families trying to adopt. The pinwheels in front of the church represent the 863 children in the foster care system in Shelby County. The church sees that there is a great need to show love and give each child a family.
Michelle Pashby signs up for the race
Michelle Pashby checked in at the race to support the ministries of the 5K. The church uses the Bible verse Isaiah 1:17 to help explain why they have an obligation to support the foster care system. “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” – Isaiah 1:17
Runners get ready for the race
Hannah Cunningham and her daughter Peyton woke up early to come out for the race. Many families ran and walked with their biological and adopted children to help the ministries.
Amanda plays with her son
Amanda Price and her husband Mark adopted their son Noah nearly four years ago from Hong Kong, China. Noah has Down’s syndrome and the Prices said their love for him is no different than their love for any of their biological children.
Noah plays hide-and-seek
Noah doesn’t always like taking pictures, but he does play hide-and-go-seek from camera. Price said Noah brings laughter, joy and love to the family and she’s amazed at how quickly he’s learning. “Literally, he is Mr. Popularity at his school with no effort,” Price said.
Mark starts the race with his children
Mark Ottinger pushes two of his six adopted children. Ottinger is the campus pastor at Fellowship Memphis and the executive director at Memphis Family Connection Center. MFCC is set to launch in the spring of 2016 to provide holistic hope, healing, support and care for families. He wants it to be a place where families learn how to get out of survival mode, and become deeply connected and filled with joy.
Mae and Fin come to the race
Mae and Fin Ottinger came along for the ride while their father ran the 5K race. Ottinger said MFCC is still raising money to launch the ministry. Ottinger spoke at an event in July. A woman in Kansa watched him speak online and sent him a check for $5,500 with a note that said, “Don’t be scared!” Ottinger said that was a cool moment.
The Longs fostered several children before Cricket came into their family. After two years with Cricket, they’re ready to sign adoption papers in December of this year. The longs fought for Cricket since birth. The christening gown and the adoption book are symbols of prayers being answered.
Cricket is an active child and constantly crawls up and down the stairs at her house. She’s nearly two months old and can already count to ten.
Sarah plays with Cricket
Cricket enjoys playing peek-a-boo with Long. After the adoption goes through, the family plans on enjoying their time as a family for at least six months before they think about fostering again. They still want to foster more, but they’re waiting for the right timing.
Cricket holds her favorite toy
Cricket’s favorite toy is her Mini Mouse stuffed animal. She holds it tightly to her chest while she walks around the room. Long said Cricket has more than enough toys. For the “Gotcha day” party, Long wants people to bring a backpack with new toys and pajamas for children in the foster care system.
Cricket plays with her toys
Cricket has several Mini Mouse toys that are all different. Some of them sing to her the Mini Mouse theme song.
Cricket crawling on the ground
Cricket crawls around on the floor and Long plays on the floor with her. The family is counting down the days to Cricket’s adoption they said they prayed for this for years.
Audio by Daisha Dear
Although many school districts participate in federally funded school breakfast programs, eliminating hunger is a complex, community-wide problem.
“Some of the children come to school late, which is not their fault,” Odommayes said. “They never have time to get breakfast and actually enjoy it.”
Only half of low-income students who are eligible for free or reduced lunches actually eat at school.
“Some students are too embarrassed to be the only one out of their group that is standing in the breakfast line. Others think that eating breakfast isn’t the ‘cool’ thing to do.” —Kristin Odommayes
Eating breakfast not only helps poverty-stricken students perform better academically, but also increases positive health and behavior as well. Children who eat breakfast at school do better on standardize tests than those who don’t or those who eat breakfast at home. Breakfast also improves students’ comprehension, concentration, alertness, memory, and learning.
“Some students are too embarrassed to be the only one out of their group that is standing in the breakfast line,” said Odommayes.“Others think that eating breakfast isn’t the cool thing to do. That is why the Breakfast in the Classroom program provides for every student, not just those that are from low-income households.”
Frank Cook, director of nutrition services for Shelby County Schools, said that the Breakfast in the Classroom program is only one of many programs that SCS has created to cater to their students’ nutritional needs.
“In addition to the breakfast and lunch program, we also do an afters-chool supper snack program, which is for those kids in extracurricular activities,” Cook said.
Shelby County Services also provides a Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for about 70 elementary schools and morning and afternoon snacks for children in the Head Start Program. Another beneficial program, the Mid-South Food Bank’s Food for Kid’s Backpack Program, provides 1,500 children in the Mid-South area with nutritious foods for the weekend. Backpack meals are distributed every Friday at 18 schools and other child-centered locations.
Aisha Diallo also contributed to this story.
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