It’s Katherine, writing from one of Indonesia’s unnamed islands (and if you think that’s giving away my location, don’t worry; there are thousands of them).

A few weeks ago, Ahna and I were gathering intel on the ways that picture books promote social awareness and altruism. Sometimes we have to travel to the farthest corners of the earth to answer our questions. Sometimes the source we need is right across the street from headquarters.

After we finished volunteering for the day, we sat down with Julie VanGessel and Brandy Arnold —  respectively the senior outreach manager and program coordinator for Kids’ Food Basket — to find out more about how social awareness can inspire children to get involved in their communities.

What is Kids’ Food Basket, in your own words?

Julie: Our mission at Kids’ Food Basket is attacking childhood hunger. We are here to make sure that children are receiving a third meal of the day. We’re serving over 7500 children in Kent, Ottawa, and Muskegon counties. Each school day we send home a sack supper filled with healthy, nutritious foods to help children learn and live well.

Your Kids Helping Kids program focuses specifically on youth volunteers. Why do you think it’s important for kids to volunteer?

Brandy Arnold
Brandy Arnold

Brandy: Kids Helping Kids wasn’t originally part of our mission, but we quickly realized the power of youth and the power they have to help make change in their communities. Volunteerism is such a powerful vehicle for students, especially for ages 18 and under; if you start those habits when they’re young, they’ll have a lifelong philanthropic lens.

We’ve found that the power of youth is amazing. One in five students experiences hunger, five in five have the power to help change that, and we fully believe that every child who comes in this door is contributing to the mission. It’s really beautiful to watch.

Julie: Over 33% of our volunteer hours come from youth under the age of 18. That’s something that we really pride ourselves on, and we really make sure that children feel welcome here.

So if kids feel inspired to get involved in their community, what are some ways they can do that?

Julie VanGessel
Julie VanGessel

Julie: Obviously if they’re here in Kent, Ottawa, or Muskegon counties we have opportunities for students to be involved, whether they come into Kids’ Food Basket or they organize something on their own in their own community. We had a student who organized a food drive on her own, and she raised 700 lbs. of food. We had a group of high schoolers who came together and did a project at a local grocery store. Another thing they can do is raise awareness and spread the word. This is not just a problem right in our own backyard, it’s a problem in our country, and everybody has the power to make a difference, to make a change.

Brandy: There’s always something that gets you fired up. Just encourage students to look in their community and say, “What gets me fired up? What am I angry about? What am I excited about and want to make even better?” And then help them seek out ways to get involved with that. You’d be surprised how welcoming people are if you’re just really fired up about a cause and want to get involved and make the world a better place.

Julie: We like to say that childhood hunger isn’t easy, it isn’t fun, but changing the world can be, and everybody has the power to do that.

Thanks again to everyone at Kids’ Food Basket for being so welcoming and giving us such useful information. Now if you’ll excuse me, this top-secret cache isn’t going to conceal itself.

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About Coffee Break Confidential:

This monthly column is where EBYR editorial assistant/vlogger/superspy Katherine Gibson divulges extra information from Coffee Break with EBYR that would otherwise be kept off the record. She’s researching topics related to children’s literature, posting her findings — and taking down some powerful militarized governments in the process. Just kidding about that last one. (Or are we?)