Thanks to a Colorado Springs Health Foundation grant, Colorado Springs Food Rescue (CSFR), a local nonprofit focused on food access and education, has been able to make a greater impact among the halls of the southeast public charter school, and in the broader community. Atlas Prep’s Full Circle Food Team consists of teen interns (20, to date) who, every Thursday, participate in food-system literacy and job readiness training, and, for class credit, manage the school’s weekly Grocery Program, which provides healthy food to area residents.
“Many students who attend Atlas Prep live in areas of town that are considered food deserts,” says Patience Kabwasa, CSFR program director. “There are a lot of intersectional poverty issues that contribute to the lack of access to fresh and healthy food, which also contributes, long-term, to people’s health outcomes. This project is a way to bring access to the community and to also educate future leaders from the community to create community-based solutions to food insecurity, as well as educate on the benefits of healthier eating.”
The curriculum the interns study, Kabwasa says, teaches them about the relationship between food and health, and about inequities in the food system. It gives students the verbiage to understand what is happening around them, what their role in the food system is, and how they can make changes. The direct service component of the Grocery Program, she adds, connects them to local families in their community, and takes them beyond the basic exchange of healthy food to a different level of understanding: “It contributes to empowerment.”
The Full Circle program supports a different kind of empowerment for the Atlas Prep teens too: After a student has participated as an intern, she can go on to apply and interview for a paid mentor position, and after the mentorship ends, she can move on to a paid coordinator job.
Alexa Tomatzin, an Atlas Prep sophomore, first connected with CSFR as a freshman intern. Now a mentor, Tomatzin helps run the school’s Grocery Program and says that the project has impacted her in many ways. “It’s helped me understand the reality of the food system in our country. This program has helped me stand up and fight for what I think is right. … CSFR has impacted the way that I think and act when it comes to talking about one of my greatest passions, food justice.”
“Given the right amount of support and resources, food insecurity can be changed and, through this work, we have discovered so many intersections that also need to be addressed to change the health outcomes of people,” says Kabwasa. “We’re excited that the students at Atlas Prep are taking on a direct responsibility of combating some of those issues to deal with food insecurity and to change the health outcomes of people in their community, because that affects everything. If you have health, you have stamina. Properly nourished, you’re more vitalized in life and at work. You’re better equipped to function better overall.”