Agency Partner Spotlight of the Month: Oak Park Youth + Family Center
At Pillsbury United Communities’ Oak Park Youth + Family Center, a Second Harvest Heartland agency partner, food is more than an essential human need—it’s a way to build community, interact and get to know neighbors.
“Oak Park is a place for youth education and afterschool programs, but we learned that many of our children were not receiving nutritious meals at home,” said Center Director Debra Chavis. “We began serving dinner in the evening before youth went home. Eventually we invited parents and siblings, which then led to regular food distribution and a focus on culturally appropriate foods.”
Community and holiday meals at Oak Park have become a regular occasion for working families who are trying to make ends meet. The meals help them meet their basic needs, but also feel part of a caring community.
Youth Café is Oak Park’s newest innovation and includes cooking classes and an intergenerational meal with community members, one Saturday each month. Oak Park’s goals for the youth range from sharing information about healthy foods, teaching the life skills of shopping, cooking and budgeting for meals, as well as motivating youth to get involved in food justice issues. Kids work alongside master chefs to plan and cook the family-style meal. They also grow herbs, flowers and vegetables in the Oak Park garden to sell to local restaurants and chefs. With the motto of “Youth-led and Youth-fed,” kids and visitors eat together, discuss topics such as barriers to healthy eating, and take pride in feeding their community.
“On Youth Café day, kids do something good for the whole community. It’s a day full of positive energy,” said Debra.