Students tackle social stigma to fight food insecurity

(STORY IMAGE:KHQ.COM)

SPOKANE, Wash. -A problem within a solution – it’s a phrase so oxymoronic that it almost doesn’t make sense, but it’s crystal clear for a specific group of students at Lewis and Clark High School.

The solution was Bite 2 Go, a program at the high school that strives to solve food insecurity for students. The program is run by DECA, an extracurricular program on campus that focuses on leadership and entrepreneurship.

It’s simple: students go to a website, fill out information (including their student ID number and choosing a faculty/staff member to pick up the food from) and pick up food weekly.

“I think what’s important about the program is the anonymity,” Sam Sells, a senior, said.

Things got complicated when students and the program’s advisor, Chantal Czarapata, started noticing bags being left behind in classrooms, hallways and trash cans. One of the students who left a bag behind said they did it out of embarrassment.

After an informal investigation, Czarapata concluded why bags were being left behind: students felt that carrying a bag (which were all plastic grocery bags) was an indication that the student was in the Bite 2 Go program. According to Czarapata and multiple students, this stigma discouraged students from taking food home.

"We were noticing them left in the classroom or thrown in the trash, just because the word started spreading that these particular bags were the Bite 2 Go bags,” Brooke Rusch, a senior, said.

"They might turn down the normal bag because it just makes them feel lesser in a way, when they're really not. They're just like all of us,” Gabriel Anglin, a senior, said.

“It’s sad if a child doesn’t want to take food because of the bag, but we all know sometimes there is a stigma that’s not meant to be on purpose, but it’s just there,” Czarapata said.

Holding a grocery bag was correlated to being apart of the Bite 2 Go program, according to students and Czarapata. They stood in stark contrast to the bags most students carried with them to hold food or personal belongings.

"There's a lot of students that I see carry LuluLemon,” Rusch said.

"Throughout Lewis and Clark, most students carry around LuluLemon and Athleta bags for their lunch,” Morgan Armstrong, a junior, said.

That’s when Rusch had an idea: if the bags are discouraging students from taking home the supplies inside, why not get new bags?

"We went and called all these local businesses and asked them to donate,” Rusch said.

Rusch and her friends ended up getting more than 1,300 bags from a variety of local shops, including Lululemon and The North Face.

“We wanted everyone to blend in, so that’s why we got bags from really popular brands in Spokane,” Armstrong said.

“I think it’s going to get rid of the stigma that they were feeling,” Czarapata said.

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