Children and families experiencing homelessness are subsisting on high fat, high starch, high salt and high sugar and processed food sources because shelters lack the financial resources to provide a more healthful diet, enriched by fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and adequate protein. Racially and economically marginalized populations, such as those sheltered by Lotus House, are at an extremely disproportionate risk for hunger, dietary inadequacies and the associated health problems of food insecurity and poor nutrition. Homeless children are twice as likely to be hungry as their peers and suffer the long ranging impacts of malnutrition with adverse consequences to their cognitive development, physical growth, educational success and social and emotional well-being. Lacking the financial resources to provide a more healthful diet, the food served in shelters often perpetuates malnutrition, adds to the problem of obesity, and fails to serve as a model and a teaching opportunity for healthy eating. Given that 30-40% of food is wasted nationwide and approximately 1,356 shelters and more soup kitchens in the U.S. are struggling to provide healthful meals to impoverished children and families, better use of surplus produce and foods is fundamental.

In keeping with our overall plan to improve nutritional status and to teach families to opt for healthy food alternatives, we conducted a baseline survey of 110 residents on hunger and food insecurity in the month before arriving at the shelter. 58% of women reported running out of food, eating less than they wanted (with 31% not eating for an entire day), and regularly eating foods they deemed “not good for them” because of lack of money. About 60% reported consuming chips, soda, fast food, and candy frequently and 70% reported not consuming enough fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, or dairy products. Only 16% reported including vegetables in a typical dinner. As measured by BMI, 77% of women and 32% of children were overweight, with 48% and 23% respectively in the obese range. Also, 15% of children were underweight.

The David and Leila Centner Culinary Center at  Lotus Village is pivotal to solving these issues. Healthful, nutritious meals and snacks, educational programming, and professional training are key to uplifting and empowering bodies, minds and spirits to truly break the cycle of homelessness.

An emphasis on low-sodium, low-sugar meals is made, along with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Our rooftop garden includes year round produce that is utilized for meals and act as an educational pivot point. We have forged partnerships with local entities to ensure utilization of local fruits and vegetables to the maximum extent possible, making use of surplus foods and also reducing food waste.

In addition, kitchen training, food service internships and Food Handler certifications assist women in youth in obtaining employment that will support their move to independence and successful exits to permanent housing outside the shelter system.

Dovetailing into the activities and holiday programming of the shelter throughout the year and enriched by volunteer celebrity chefs, this program functions as the hearth and heart of Lotus Village

Building on the success of Lotus Thrift Chic Boutique, a social enterprise providing retail and barista job readiness training, as well as clothing and furnishings for our sheltered women, youth and children, the Lotus Working Classroom Kitchen – Culinary Program provides 360,000 nutritious meals annually along with educational programming designed to nourish and uplift bodies, minds and spirits.

Goals and Objectives include:

  1. Improve access to and knowledge of nutritious foods:
  2. Food service operation and preparation of healthful, nutritious meals and snacks for women, youth and children sheltered by Lotus House, 3 meals a day for up to 500 persons per day.
  3. Provide healthful cooking classes for program participants.
  4. Provide food and nutrition education classes for program participants, including rooftop gardening.
  5. Increase economic independence:
  6. Provide education/employment supports for program participants.
  7. Provide job training and certifications for program participants.
  8. Provide paid foodservice internships for program participants.

This key program empowers women, youth and children with nourishing meals, critical life skills, knowledge, self-confidence, and professional training.