Last year, BGR began a partnership with NYC’s Reciprocity Foundation, which trains and counsels homeless youth. The partnership aims to enable Reciprocity to expand its vegetarian meals program. Their half-year interim report indicates this partnership is bearing fruit.
For the past eight years, the Reciprocity Foundation has worked tirelessly in New York City to provide care for homeless youth in the age range of 13-26 years. The Foundation aims to nurture the transformation of homeless, impoverished youngsters—most living in homeless shelters—into educated, employed young persons able to take on leadership roles in society. Reciprocity offers a unique holistic synthesis of contemplative, psychological, and practical modes of training. It provides counseling, meditation, yoga, retreats, career coaching, college admission support, and digital media training.
In 2012, the staff at Reciprocity found that their homeless students were arriving at the center very hungry because of a shortage of food at the shelters. Budget cuts had meant there was too little food for too many mouths. In the spring of 2012, they decided to design their own vegetarian food program, which they called “Starved for Meaning.” They began serving home-cooked, vegetarian meals to homeless and foster-care youth in New York City— group meals that provided the homeless young people with companionship as well as food. By the fall of 2012 Reciprocity had the largest vegetarian food program in the country for homeless people.
For 2013-14 Reciprocity wanted to expand and improve the food program, and so they applied to BGR for support. The goals expressed in their application were threefold: (1) to reconfigure their kitchen by upgrading its cooking facilities and serving space; (2) to double capacity, increasing the number of students served per week from 30 to 75, and the number of meals from 2 to 4 weekly; (3) to provide nutrition education by hiring a nutritionist to educate students about the vegetarian meal program and teaching them how to make healthy food choices.
The half-year interim report from Reciprocity Foundation, received this past week, indicates they have successfully implemented their first two goals and now look forward to pursuing the third goal. Here are excerpts from the report:
Since receiving the BGR Grant, we were able to upgrade our kitchen space and transition into a more organized system. First, we purchased a new industrial slow-cooker, dedicated a portion of the budget to buying new cookware. Second, we purchased two industrial blenders that we use to make soups and healthy smoothies/ green juices (that include natural powder nutritional supplements). Finally, we also invested in fixing and upgrading our community farm table and buying 15 additional chairs to serve more students. We plan to further upgrade our cooking and food preparation area this spring to increase the diversity of the meals we serve.
We increased the number of meals we serve from 2 per week, to 4 per week. Second, we began offering healthy snacks during our classes in several homeless shelters when we offer off-site programming. This has brought healthy vegetarian food into environments in which mostly processed food and meat are typically served. Third, we created an innovative way to bring vegetarian food to homeless youth during this very cold and long winter. We engaged in several Emergency Feeding programs on the streets of NYC where we were able to feed over 70 young people without access to healthy food. We focused our efforts on Port Authority Bus Terminal and Times Square, where we identified hungry disconnected/homeless youth and provided them with a healthy meal and a connection to warm, loving people.
Overall, we have nearly met our goal of increasing the students that participate in our food program. We have thus far, in peak periods, increased the meals served from 30 to 60. We are working hard to further increase that number but are delighted to have already seen such an expansion in our vegetarian meal program as a result of the BGR grant.
Finally, we have improved the weekly advertising of our program to homeless youth. In particular we are focusing on social media driven outreach—which is the most effective way of reaching homeless youth. We advertise our vegetarian meals via texts, emails, and on Facebook/Twitter to NYC homeless youth.
Now, having accomplished the increase in meals served and students participating in our program, we will now focus our efforts on improving the complementary educational programming alongside our meal program. In February 2014, we enlisted two holistic health practitioners (a nutritional counselor and a naturopathic doctor) who will provide coaching to our students in spring 2014. Their coaching will be provided one-on-one and group sessions throughout the spring and summer to offer advice related to the link between nutrition and homeless youth concerns related to living with HIV, addiction, malnutrition, eating well on a small budget and coping with eating disorders.