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Blended: What Two Boys Learned About Hunger at Food Lifeline

An afternoon spent repacking 12,050 pounds of food fuels important conversations

Jackie Freeman

Published on: June 20, 2017

Food Lifeline
A mother and children repacking food at Food LIfeline. Photo courtesy of Food Lifeline.

My Bubba used to babysit us when we were younger. Despite all of her talents, she was an uninspired cook. She would just “throw together” something for dinner. I’m sure it was healthy and she tried her best, but I remember wanting to eat anything but what was on my plate. After an eternity of pushing food into different piles and trying to sneak bites to the dog, I would always get the Jewish grandmother axiom of “Eat what’s on your plate. There are children starving in Africa (or China or Russia, as the mood suited her).”

Yeah, right, Bubba.


A mix of families, cultures and food, Jackie Freeman's new ParentMap column "Blended" follows the culinary adventures of one step-mama chef and her two kitchen monkeys as they learn to make scrumptious and sane mealtime choices.

Wait. Actually, that is right. Not only are there children starving all over the world, there are families in our own cities who do not have a steady and reliable source of food. In fact, both my family and my husband’s have struggled with food security. My Bubba was a single mother, raising two young children in the South during the 1950s. My husband’s family were refugees, with literally just the clothes on their backs and a suitcase full of books. Money was tight for both families, whether it was for housing, clothes or food.

My two kitchen monkeys are lucky. They have a cupboard full of healthy (and not-so-healthy) snacks that they can eat anytime. There is always breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, dessert, second dinner, and third dinner waiting for them. (I feel like I’m raising hobbits from The Lord of the Rings, the boys eat so much.) They don’t know what it means to be hungry. So, my husband and I decided to do something about that.

In April, we loaded my older stepson and his teenage cousin into the car and headed to Food Lifeline. An organization based in Seattle's South Park neighborhood, Food Lifeline rescues millions of pounds of food each year and distributes it to local food banks and shelters across Western Washington. We volunteered to help inspect and repack food to be distributed to local meal programs.

The kids got out of the car and looked at us with expressionless faces. Did they know why there were here or what this place did? No, they did not. We talked about hunger: around the world, in our neighborhoods, in our families. They asked good questions, like how do people not have enough food to eat, and will we ever not have enough food in our own house? We were honest in our responses, saying we didn’t have all the answers.

Our conversations turned from light-hearted banter to serious questions about food waste, food security and hunger.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sorting and repackaging food. At first, the kids made a game of it, trying to sort as quickly as possible. But, then something happened. 

"Hey, this is the same cereal we eat at our house!”

And, “This can only has a little dent in it, why would someone throw it away?”

Or, “Why can’t stores sell Easter candy in June?”

Our conversations turned from light-hearted banter to serious questions about food waste, food security and hunger.

At the end of the day, our group had repacked 12,050 pounds of rescued food, which provided more than 10,000 meals to the hungry in our area. The kids couldn’t believe what they accomplished, and how many families they helped. When asked if they would like to do this again, they answered a resounding “Yes! And we should bring our WHOLE family!”

On the drive home they realized they were hungry from all of their hard work. They further realized that when we got home, there would be food waiting for them. And that not every family can say the same.

Help for helping others

Find great volunteer opportunities for teens and tweens

Find volunteer opps for all ages you can do all year long

Find out about volunteering at Food Lifeline and other ways you can help end hunger

Find similar opportunities at Northwest Harvest, PCC Natural Markets Food Bank Program, Hopelink, and Operation: Sack Lunch.

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