Written by: Kira McNealy, FoodCorps Service Member with San Diego Unified School District
I’ve never been much of a planner. In fact, even meal prep gives me some sort of anxiety because knowing what’s on the menu every day for a week just doesn’t serve me well. Though I was quick to line up internships in college and excel scholastically, I didn’t put much thought into what came next. Getting my degree was really the pinnacle of my life. One thing I did plan for, however, was to find meaningful, fulfilling work and when I stumbled across FoodCorps in a Google search I really stopped looking.
Waterbury is a culturally diverse city in New Haven County, Connecticut. It is also home to my first year’s service site, GEAR-UP—a program that helps economically disadvantaged students gain early academic readiness for undergraduate programs. In Waterbury, I bonded with my students at Duggan Elementary through planning a school/community garden build and student-developed and led taste tests. I learned how to roll with the punches. Sure, the garden build didn’t end up taking place during the last week of school but we still harvested the basil and parsley for a pesto party during summer school. As soon as I began to become more accustomed to and enamored by snow dates, bodegas and New England culture, I traded it in for more familiar surroundings.
San Diego is known for its consistent sunshine, Mexican food and beach culture. It is also the city in which I was born and raised and for my second year of service with FoodCorps, I am lucky to serve with the same school district I attended years ago. With the San Diego Unified School District, one of the larger projects I will be taking on this year is assisting to create a standard operating procedure to help staff collaboratively plan and complete taste tests across the entire district. I’m learning how important it is to plan ahead to make successes scalable and replicable. I am learning the balance between living in the moment and thinking for the future.
Life before FoodCorps was certainly gratifying and enjoyable but my service has allowed me to gain new perspective. Though I deem myself an educator, through FoodCorps I learned more about the world and myself than I anticipated. Whether serving a small community of 18,000 students back East or 130,000 in densely populated SoCal, I’ve learned it is important to be authentic. I am free-spirited and spontaneous, but I also understand the need to plan ahead for long-term success. And, though I can’t tell you what I plan on having for lunch on Thursday, I can confidently say I plan to continue the trend that FoodCorps has inspired in me.
About the Author: Kira describes her first year as a FoodCorps service member as “the most profound, transformative experience.” Entering her second year of service, Kira has crossed the country from her first term in Waterbury, CT, to the San Diego Unified School District in sunny southern California, where she previously studied food and nutrition at San Diego State University. Her activist spirit was ignited when she began pursuing Women’s Studies in addition to nutritional sciences and learned about the link between diet, disease, and poverty.
San Diego Unified School District – Food and Nutrition Services is committed to providing healthy school meals and snacks to the students of San Diego Unified in order to support student academic success and promote healthful eating habits that lead to lifelong positive nutrition practices. SDUSD provides more than 135,000 meals and snacks per day to students and staff throughout the district, and employs more than 1,400 team members. Learn more here.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. To find out more, please visit their website.