If YouTube is to be believed, being a mascot involves physical comedy, fierce dancing skills, and the occasional brawl with opposition mascots—or, if you’re The Freeze, repeatedly humiliating over-confident competitors with your supersonic speed. And you usually do all of this in some sort of poufy, fuzzy, sauna-suit costume with zero visibility and a giant ping-pong ball of a head. No problem, right?


That’s the question I kept asking myself leading up to my first gig as a school mascot. I mean, I’m a natural fit. Physically uncoordinated? Check. No dancing skills whatsoever? Check. More social inhibitions than an introverts’ convention? Check.  Really, if you’d told me a month ago that I’d be out in public voluntarily dressed up as a bobcat wannabe, I would have laughed you out of the building. In fact, a complete lack of interest in costume-wearing was specifically mentioned during my interview for VISTA service!

So what WAS I doing out there, anyway?

According to the Alliance for Healthier Generations, 29% of Montana children ages 2-19 are obese. That means over a quarter of our state’s children are at greater risk for high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, joint problems, and other serious health issues. Their mental health is also endangered, since childhood obesity is linked to low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. That’s not the future I’d pick for any child, but it’s a future that can be changed with the right interventions.

There’s no one simple cause for childhood obesity—and there’s no one simple cure—but there are steps we can take to help our kids grow into happy, healthy adults. The Montana Food Bank Network states, “Thirty of Montana’s 56 counties have areas considered food deserts: low-income areas where at least 500 people and/or 33% of the residents must travel more than ten miles to the nearest supermarket (or 1 mile in urban areas).  In Montana, nearly 72,000 individuals live in areas considered food deserts and have limited access to a grocery store or supermarket, making access to fresh, affordable food a daily challenge.” Getting food—the right kind of food—to kids is the first step.

Then comes the fun part! Kids are natural jumping beans, but too often these days they’re found sitting on a couch gazing deeply into a TV or phone screen instead of having the mighty adventures of childhood. Things get even harder when you live in rural communities with limited options for physical activity, especially when it’s cold enough outside to freeze a wooly mammoth solid 6 months of every year! But adults can help. Not only can we lead by example (cough, cough…slowly slides candy bar back into her pocket), but we can invest our time in providing kids with extra opportunities for fun and healthy exercise.

And THAT is why I found myself getting my morning dose of claustrophobia in an over-sized wildcat costume, trying to see something—anything!—through the holes in its nostrils. Breakfast Buddies is a program that Plentywood Schools started this spring, where high school athletes and other role models eat with younger students on the first Monday of every month. High school students have the opportunity to set a great example by eating a healthy breakfast, and the chance to lead a fitness activity in the gym before classes start. Kids get something fun to do before school, but more importantly, it supports them in developing healthy habits that can last a lifetime. And the mascot mostly stands around, handing out breakfast stickers and bumping into things it can’t see. It’s a win-win for everyone!

Breakfast Buddies is an awesome event…with awesome kids…for an awesome reason, and I’m awesomely glad I got to be a part of it. And it is SO somebody else’s turn in that blasted suit!

Tina Kahrs
Montana No Kid Hungry-PRC AmeriCorps VISTA
Plentywood, MT