Not all meals are created equal. This is especially true for young children in homeless shelters. Seeing this, Catherine Aker, a shy high school junior, stepped out of her comfort zone, and started The Stone Soup Kitchen to teach homeless kids in her community proper nutrition so they can grow up healthy and strong.
While volunteering at a local homeless shelter, Catherine noticed the kids had a poor diet. Although they were getting sufficient calories for their young bodies, it was mostly from junk food, even when healthier food was available. The kids didn’t understand proper nutrition, and were not involved in the preparation of their food. Also, the kids were influenced by television commercials aimed at kids that advertised junk food. Sadly, the unhealthy diets of the homeless children could lead to obesity and chronic disease.
Catherine realized the solution to the problem was education. She formed The Stone Soup Kitchen as a means to promote and understanding of basic nutrition, and instill healthy eating habits in homeless children. Of course, she knew it wouldn’t be an easy. She consulted with a consumer science teacher on how to make lesson plans, studied Spanish to better understand the immigrant kids, and took leadership classes to improve her own shy demeanor. Her program has formed partnerships with local grocers to offset the cost of materials, and worked with the Mass Medical Society to teach kids the importance of clean food preparation.
There have also been numerous fundraisers to help cover the cost of the program, including a “Change The World” campaign, collecting spare change from friends and family. In the classroom, she has made nutrition fun by making sure that the lessons corresponded with the kid’s interests.
During Halloween she used skeletons to emphasize the importance of calcium and strong bones; carrots were food for reindeers at Christmas; dinosaurs chowed down on broccoli trees between arts and crafts project; and the kids even got a special visit from the New England Patriots to teach them the importance of diet and exercise. Catherine’s efforts have done more than just give homeless kids a lesson in nutrition. They have made them excited about it. They have given them a sense of ownership about their own health, and a sense of responsibility about their well-being.