Spotlight On: Noli Taylor

Noli Taylor poses for a photo with community members and CNOP staff
Noli Taylor (center) was instrumental in bringing the Summer Food Service Program to Martha's Vineyard.

Although not always visible, hunger is a very real problem on Martha’s Vineyard. The Island Food Pantry serves 500 families per year, and more than 300 Island households, totaling 576 people, received SNAP benefits during the month of March 2016. Many senior citizens rely on Meals on Wheels, and over 30 percent of all Vineyard students qualify for free and reduced price school meals. During the school year, many families stretch their food budget by relying on free or reduced price school meals for their children. Frequently, these families find it difficult to absorb the additional meal costs when school is not in session, leaving children at risk for hunger, summer learning loss, fatigue, and the development of unhealthy eating habits. Community Food Education Director for Island Grown Schools, Noli Taylor, understood something needed to be done to help feed the students who depended on those schools meals when school let out for the summer.

Noli helped launched Island Grown Schools, the Vineyard's farm to school program, in 2007, as a project of Island Grown Initiative, a community non-profit dedicated to creating a resilient food system on Martha's Vineyard. In the first year Island Grown Schools, Noli helped host a series of monthly community meetings bringing people together from all over the Island to share ideas about how to build Island Grown Schools in a way that would best support the community. Now in the tenth year of the program, Island Grown Schools works with all seven K-12 schools on the island in addition to ten preschools, totaling more than 2,500 students ages 2-18. In December 2016, Project Bread’s Child Nutrition Outreach Coordinator, Rachel Garside, reached out to Noli to discuss the idea of bringing the Summer Food Service Program to Martha’s Vineyard. After a few conversations with Rachel, and empowered by the opportunity to make the SFSP a reality for all these students, Noli dove into planning. As a local of Martha’s Vineyard, and as someone who works on food systems change on the Island, Noli was able to identify community partners and put her organizing skills to the test.

State Senator Julian Cyr and Noli Taylor talk at an SFSP meeting
State Senatory Julian Cyr discusses the SFSP

State Senator Julian Cyr joins Noli Taylor and other community members at an SFSP planning meeting on Martha's Vineyard.

In January, Noli and Rachel convened a group of Vineyard residents interested in starting a Summer Food Service Program on Martha’s Vineyard at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown. Over thirty residents attended the meeting to learn more about the SFSP and brainstorm how they could bring this federal nutrition program to the Island for the first time. In 2015, there were 680 students on the Island who qualified for free and reduced-price school meals, yet there were no sites offering summer meals. Residents who attended the meeting brainstormed which organizations could serve as potential sponsors for the program, handling all of the financial and administrative aspects of the program, and which locations would make for ideal sites. State Senator Julian Cyr stopped by to listen in and learn more about the program. The community meeting was covered by both the Vineyard Gazette and the Martha’s Vineyard Times.

As a direct result of Noli’s outreach and organizing, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) has offered to serve as the local sponsor for the SFSP's inaugural year. MVRHS is hoping to pilot three sites this year: an open site at the Oak Bluffs Library; a closed site at the Boys and Girls Club; and a second closed site at the English Language Learners Summer Program at Tisbury School. Meals will be served from July 10th- August 11th, with the goal of expanding to more sites and a longer service period in future years. The Child Nutrition Outreach Program at Project Bread would like to thank Noli Taylor for her tireless work to ensure that all children on Martha’s Vineyard have access to nutritious food on a year-round basis!

[1] Louisa Hufstader. "Faces of Hunger Hard to Find, But Are Everywhere on Martha's Vineyard." Vineyard Gazette [Martha's Vineyard] 15 Dec. 2016: Print.

Martha's Vineyard community members discuss the SFSP at a table
Martha's Vineyard Community Meeting

Over 30 community members participated in a meeting to discuss bringing the SFSP to Martha's Vineyard.