FOOD WARS, EPISODE VI: THE RETURN OF THE SUMMER


In the hills surrounding Helena, Montana, the birds have returned from their
annual sojourn south, the flowers are blooming, and the sun is shining.
Meanwhile, in the valley below, the Food Service Staff are fighting the
Battle of the End of the School Year. 

Fighting on multiple fronts, the Staff must clean each kitchen thoroughly,
carry out each barbecue to perfection, all while fighting the powers of
Bureaucracy to get to the SUMMER MEALS PROGRAM. 

When implemented, the SUMMER MEALS PROGRAM will provide food
and fun for kids across Helena all summer long...

Also, there’s no air conditioning.

Back in May, I went around to a bunch of classrooms in Helena for “Lunch Hero Week.” The kids got to make artwork thanking their food service staff for all their hard work, the teachers got a brief reprieve from teaching, and our food service staff got a small idea of how much what they do matters. I always admire how much the “lunch heroes” here can get done with the resources they have, and that’s especially true at this time of year, when their normal duties are multiplied by all the extra stuff they have to do. And unlike Star Wars, they do this every year with no one really watching. They’re definitely my lunch heroes!

Also unlike Star Wars, fighting childhood hunger is not the effort of a small, scrappy group of underdog Rebels against an evil, monolithic Empire. Instead, it’s the effort of food banks, meal providers, volunteers, box-checkers, and paper-pushers everywhere. It’s the effort of people who know how to bend the rules (for example, you can only serve two federally reimbursed meals at one site… but you can serve another one across the street). It’s the effort of people who have a great idea and beat their heads against a wall trying to figure out how to get it done.

Back when I first moved to Helena, I was asked to write a letter to myself about why I’m serving, about what inspires me. In that letter, I wrote this line: “What’s inspired me this week is the daily work, the way people chip away at a problem every day of their lives like water, slow, patient, and the most powerful thing to shape the earth, just a little bit at a time.”

That hasn’t changed.

Heroic, expansive stories matter, but so do the small, slow ones. Because they’re real, and they make a difference.

Ellen Harris
Montana No Kid Hungry-PRC AmeriCorps VISTA
Helena, MT