Friday, April 13, 2012

Just Harvest's Shauna Ponton - Advocating for Child Nutrition Year-Round

This is the first of a periodic series of staff profiles that will appear on Just Blogging!

Just Harvest’s Child Nutrition Advocate Shauna Ponton has been with us for 11 years, during which she’s honed her commitment to empowering people to stand up to injustice. One way she does this is by educating low-income families on food programs available to them and their children. “I want to make a difference in someone’s life - every day,” she says. “That’s my personal ‘mission statement.'”

Shauna works daily to get the word out about various federally funded programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC - a program that provides supplemental food vouchers for new mothers and children ages birth to 5), after-school programs and summer food programs. Ensuring that eligible families and children in need have both the awareness of and access to these programs is one of her prime responsibilities.

Currently, she is organizing a statewide advocacy effort to implement a one-year recertification option for WIC. By requiring fewer visits to the WIC office, opting into the one-year recertification (as opposed to the current program that requires parents to visit the WIC office for recertification every 6 months) would make continued program participation less burdensome on working parents.

Child nutrition programs that are both functional and easily accessible go a long way toward helping low-income families to save money: Money that can be used for gas in the car, households expenses, or paying utility bills.

That’s why another big part of her job is to defend these programs against budget cuts. It is not too often that programs to feed children face huge cuts, but the threat is always looming (as it did last year, when Congress was mulling large reductions to WIC funding).

The stakes of childhood hunger are high – and the effects of poor nutrition are devastating to growing children. Poor concentration and hunger pangs interfere with learning both in the short and long term, and children of low-income families can also face obesity-related health issues that result from eating unhealthy foods (which unfortunately happen to be the cheapest, if not the only, available foods in some neighborhoods).

And what about maintaining school feeding programs when the schools themselves are perpetually facing budget cuts? Legislators need to open their eyes to the facts, she explained. “They have to understand what it takes to feed a kid a healthy meal in school. And what it takes to feed a kid breakfast and lunch in the summer months.” After that understanding is reached, legislators need to put the money where the programs are. And, it’s their duty to make sure those programs continue to work. She faces an additional challenge in sometimes having to educate legislators about the policies they implement. “Their view is far removed from real life,” she says. “They look at the dollars and cents, and end up being penny wise but pound foolish.”

To help combat these issues during the summer months, Shauna advocates for wider implementation of the Summer Food Service Program. This federally funded program serves breakfast, lunches and snacks to children in areas where 50 percent or more of the children receive free or reduced-price school meals.

With all the talk of nutrition standards in schools these days, it’s easy to mistakenly assume that Shauna personally educates families and children on how to eat healthy – but that isn’t the case. The programs are already designed to meet USDA guidelines for nutritional value. Shauna’s main focus is on getting the programs into the communities, and making sure that they remain robust enough to meet growing need.

If you’re interested in supporting the summer food program as a volunteer or as a site coordinator, contact Shauna at shaunap@justharvest.org. Please write “Summer Food Program” in subject line.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

We can end the hunger if our government will help and prioritize poverty in our nation. Government should not depend on the non government organization to act on this problem because funds and volunteers are their number one problem.




Joseph @ volunteer in guatemala