Practice for Poverty: Hunger Games
P.O. Box 2454
Traverse City, Michigan 49685
In Manistee, students go from classroom to grocery store and then into the kitchen to cook a meal they've purchased for very little money.
It won't be long until a financial shortage pulls the plug on Hunger Games. No, this isn't some Hollywood producer yanking the funding on a popular movie production. It hits closer to home than that.
We're talking about SEEDS Hunger Games in Manistee, a worthwhile local program at Manistee High that teaches students how to put together meals under a stringent budget in case, one day, they ever find themselves in that situation--and let's face it, many of us do at one point or another in life. The SEEDS (Seeking Ecology, Education and Design Solution)
program is nearing the end of the five-year grant that funds it, and while the folks at MHS have reapplied, it is clear Manistee is no longer going to be a site for the Hunger Games program.
Not to worry, however. Just because the program is ending its fifth year at MHS, doesn't mean there won't be Hunger Games in nearby students' futures. Future grants may include Brethren High School and Middle School in Manistee County, and Benzie Central School in Benzie County.
SEEDS Hunger Games teaches students valuable lessons, and lets them learn in a practical manner that takes them out of the classroom, into the grocery store, and then into the cooking lab to cook up the meal they've purchased for very little money.
"One Thursday a month, we get about a dozen kids come out, and they really seem to enjoy themselves," says Kevin Summer, SEEDS After School Site Coordinator at Manistee High. "Depending on how many come, we break down into groups, give them handouts on how much they can spend, offer some tips on what to look for, because their meals must supply fruits, grains and proteins."
The price-per-meal guideline is laid out by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
, one of the nation's most important anti-hunger programs. SNAP annually helps almost 47 million low-income Americans to afford a nutritionally adequate diet. To get SNAP benefits, households must meet certain tests, including resource and income tests. Another guideline for the meals comes from myplate.gov, a United States Department of Agriculture site.
Well, are you ready for what the students get to spend on their meal that includes fruits, grains and proteins? Under $2.00. That's right, using SNAP guidelines and tips from Summers, the students are able to put together, then cook, a nutritious meal once a month for less than $2.00.
"Eating the meal is my favorite part of the whole night," says Tyler Benson, 15, a freshman at Manistee High. "I enjoy it because it tastes good, and, believe it or not, it's healthy!"
During SEEDS Hunger Games, after receiving SNAP's average per meal allotment to spend on ingredients, under $2.00, students then visit Oleson's Food Store, a nearby grocery store, and shop for the best deals possible that fit their menu. Sometimes, the students also stop at Family Dollar to look for bargains.
It takes some tough choices. But some of the students have made the choices in advance, by going to the grocery store's website before the trip, checking out sales, and prices that will fit into their budget.
"It's a challenge sometimes," says Destiny Colby, 15, another freshman at MHS. "You might figure out what you want to make, but then you have to figure what everything costs. If you can't afford your ingredients, you need to make something else. You need to have a backup plan."
As part of the two-hour after school session, the students are also allowed a visit to a small pantry at the school, which includes flour, sugar and other dry goods that might help make the meal and are cost-free. This is much like what might be available at a community pantry.
Then, after the checking of the sales, the trip to the pantry and buying groceries, comes the fun part, at least for most of the students: The cooking.
By the time they are nearing the end of the program, the kids have worked up a pretty solid appetite, and they are ready to cook their meals and dig in.
"I like the cooking the most," says Colby. "I also like spending time with most of the people who go, and see what they make. I also like figuring out what to make. It's not always easy to make a quality meal under that budget."
They cook, they eat, but they don't eat all of the food. Some is left over for the guest judge of the month, who judges on a 1-5 scale in three categories: taste, nutritional value and presentation. Then a winning group is named, and the eating commences.
While it is a competition, it really is a win-win for the students. They understand hunger is a real problem, and that the SEEDS Hunger Games is a way to teach them to work around the issue if they face it someday.
"I don't usually find it challenging to put together the meals for under the price limit, because I have to do that with my family already," Benson says. "You just have to check local fliers and discount racks at the supermarket. Compare prices when you shop and you can easily make a good meal under a budget if you need to."
He said he would recommend the SEEDS Hunger Games program to others, because of what the experience has taught him.
"It gives you the experience to face the challenges that other people face, and that you just might experience yourself one day."
While the five-year grant from the Department of Education's 21st Century Living Center is ending for Manistee High School, there are still other SEEDS programs in the area that need help. Local SEEDS programs are applying for grants elsewhere, and they also accepts donations and smaller grants for assistance. For more information, contact Kevin Summers at 609-405-9156.