Cultivate in South Bend: Notre Dame athletes volunteer by preparing meals for local children

Cultivate In South Bend

In St. Joseph, Elkhart, and Marshall counties, more than 45,000 students receive free or reduced-price lunch at school. But what happens on the weekends? Thanks to Cultivate, a South Bend nonprofit, many of those children are now sent home with meals so they don’t go hungry.

Cultivate is devoted to the fight against hunger and works with Notre Dame and other local food suppliers to rescue excess, never-served food in order to donate it to those who are food insecure. At Notre Dame, Cultivate has rescued tens of thousands of pounds of food—20,000 just from Notre Dame Stadium—which also helps the University in its sustainability goals.

The successful partnership caught the eye of Notre Dame undergraduates who became eager to participate. As part of Community Commitment, a division of Athletics, 50 Notre Dame swimmers and divers volunteered to package food from the Morris Inn, Feed the Hungry, and Monroe Circle for food insecure families in the community. The high-quality food—including salmon, chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, and rice—was packaged into individual meals before being frozen for distribution.

Devoted to the common good.

In a pilot program last spring, funded in part by a $10,000 grant from the Kelly Cares Foundation, and in collaboration with Notre Dame’s William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families, Cultivate launched the Backpack Program to distribute some of its meals to local children. Studies show that children who are hungry are less likely to complete high school and are more likely to experience developmental delays. Through the Backpack Program, 100 kids at Madison STEAM Academy were delivered backpacks with eight frozen meals, each containing a protein, a vegetable, and a starch.

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“This was the perfect fit,” says Deb Martin, principal at Madison. “We were looking for a way to supplement our food program in the evenings and on the weekends because we knew that we had kids that were food deprived and we knew that we had kids that would come to school on Monday hungry.”

Based on the assessment of the pilot program, Cultivate has expanded the Backpack Program to provide 400 backpacks throughout three counties. Cultivate will continue to partner with Notre Dame on the project, especially with researchers at the Shaw Center who will assess the effects on student attendance, classroom performance, and health and wellness, thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute.

“As a Catholic institution devoted to the common good, Notre Dame is proud to support Cultivate in its quest to end hunger in the South Bend-Elkhart region,” says Jessica Brookshire, associate director for public affairs at Notre Dame. “This particular program is especially gratifying. Not only does it support the most vulnerable in our community—young children—at a critical moment in their development as learners, it also reduces food waste on campus, contributing to the University’s overall goals for sustainability.”