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Northshore Nourishing Network is eager to help students and their families

Editor's note: This is the first of several stories touching on Northshore residents helping families in need. Look for more coverage in the Reporter's Dec. 2 issue.

A hundred or so concerned citizens, Northshore School District employees, students, state representatives and project leaders recently gathered in the Bothell High cafeteria. The reason: to discuss a developing idea that will help hungry families in the district.

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Northshore Nourishing Network (NNN) is the name given to the idea intended to decrease the number of families in the district who struggle with having adequate food and shelter. The idea began in 2009 when, in the wake of the economic recession, having hungry children in the classroom became a more prominent issue. Since then, NNN has slowly gained momentum until the community summit, where concerned citizens could come to learn more.

The NNN Community Summit Planning Team is comprised of volunteers Kristin Dickert, Dan Leahy, Lew Dickert, Matt Wesley, Erin Ingersoll and Karen Orsinger among many others who contributed their support. NNN partnered with The Center for Ethical Leadership to plan six community summits to inform the public and get people involved.

Dickert, a volunteer with the planning team for NNN, voiced that needy families will only be able to benefit from the program as much as volunteers are willing to contribute.

“(NNN) will be what people in our community choose to make it,” Dickert said. “It is not… going to come in and do this work for the community. People and organizations must join together and weave a new network of support…through the power of collaboration.”

Wesley, NNN volunteer and former president of the Hopelink board of directors, also spoke at the summit.

“The third world is alive in the first world, in our community,” Wesley said. “We don’t know the true impact of what solving this problem would be like.”

Nourishing Network wasn’t the only topic discussed at the meeting. Speakers also addressed existing programs such as the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. How there are downsides to it like students not wanting to be labeled as “poor” or “needy.”

There were group discussions at the many tables in the room where people got the chance to share their thoughts and ideas on solutions to solve the hunger issue. NNN planning team member Leahy guided group discussion with the question, “If we were the answer we are waiting for, what would we do?”

The attendees proposed several good ideas: how to get business support for Northshore Nourishing Network, how to make the benefits most convenient to students and families and how to determine need. Kenmore Junior High ninth-grader and associated student body (ASB) officer Lily Bechtel sat at a table with a school nurse, a school-board member, her school's Vice Principal Nancy Smith-Vela and others. Bechtel said she was interested in bringing the information she gained from the summit back to her school to recruit student volunteers and help kids.

“We want to partner with some other organizations that want to help the communities,” Bechtel said. “That’s why I love being in ASB. I can be involved with students and the community.”

Several guest speakers also contributed to the conversation. One man told the story of how he and his family struggled with having enough food when he was in school.

“It was a great stress relief. We knew we’d have at least one meal a day (at school). When we didn’t have the food on the weekends, churches and communities stepped up,” he said. “Our parents could support us. It made a great impact on my life, on my siblings life…it really helped us out.”

A mother then stood up and said that as a parent who relies on the Free and Reduced Lunch Program and food stamps for help, NNN and its community supporters were a beacon of hope and would make a huge impact on her life.

“I really can’t do this by myself,” she said. She then introduced her young daughter, who answered “yes” when asked if there was sometimes no food in the house.

Linda Benson, vice president of community initiatives at Hopelink, claimed that with enough community support, NNN could form “a net so strong that no one can fall through.”

Attendees hung their name tags on a large burlap net to symbolize their support of NNN and Northshore families.

As the summit wrapped up, the atmosphere in the cafeteria was not bleak with such a serious topic being discussed. Instead, the vibe was uplifting. Those who attended seemed inspired by what they learned.

The goal for the NNN planning team at this stage in the process is to connect the stakeholder groups and educate the community. Dickert said she is “inspired by what can happen next.”

The meeting ended with a quote by author Clarissa Pinkola Estes, which was read to the audience: “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is in our reach.”

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