Through Summer Feeding Program, Islamic Relief USA Helps Feed More than Hungry Bellies

August 2, 2017

Minhaj Hassan, Islamic Relief USA

The Summer Feeding Program at Citiwide Pre-Vocational Center in Washington, D.C, – with financial support provided by Islamic Relief USA –  provided 200 or so teens who participated nutritious lunches that included apples, milk, bagels, yogurt, and other offerings.

What the program also helped provide was an outlet for kids who are hungry for other things, such as knowledge, guidance and a dose of life lessons that they may already know, but needed some friendly reminders.

One of the program’s participants was Trayonna Johnson, who participated in a six-week program that ended on August 4. Having grown up in a rough neighborhood in Washington, D.C., the 18-year-old had been wanting to go to therapy for a long time, often feeling emotionally trapped. When she started going to the summer program at Citiwide, she believed that the meals she received helped make a difference in how she approached each day, helping her become more alert and forward-looking.

“You can’t really focus if you’re hungry,” she said.

Her keen observation is reinforced by several studies. Not all kids are fortunate to avoid hunger. Close to 16 million children in the United States live in households that struggle to put sufficient food on the table. In addition to physical manifestations, hunger is also known to cause behavioral, emotional, and physical problems.

Johnson can relate to the behavioral issues. While the meals were important, the summer feeding program helped provide other people and tools to help with spiritual, emotional, and intellectual nourishment. She said she was particularly impacted by a woman who helped run the program at Citiwide. The woman, Tanisha Murden, serves as the center’s executive assistant and outreach coordinator.

When she first came to the program, Johnson said she was irritable and ‘had a chip on her shoulder.’ Over time, and with Murden’s guidance, she noticed some differences. At Citiwide, which specializes in computer training, Johnson learned various Microsoft programs, worked on cover letters and resumes, and sharpened her presentation skills through mock interviews.

“It made me view life differently,” Johnson said. “I feel more energetic, helpful, and friendly.”

She came away from the program with a more optimistic and philosophical mindset.

“Life will be filled with obstacles and can get you off track,” she said. “You have to fight back.”

Johnson’s story shows that while addressing the physical aspects of hunger is crucial, a holistic approach is needed to get out of poverty. That includes a positive attitude and providing the necessary resources to help one become employable in the competitive job market. Thanks to the summer feeding program site of Citiwide, Johnson received the food and the tools to help her build a promising career path, and most importantly, a promising and balanced life.

She now aspires to do something in the criminal justice or legal fields, and is determined to break the cycle of poverty that has engulfed much of her life. She knows one thing is certain.

“I’m not going to be a bum,” she said. “That’s out of the question.”