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.