Winona Bynum, Manager of Youth and Nutrition Programs at Gleaners Community Food Bank

elying on a free or reduced-price lunch at school to get through the day. Skipping after-school activities due to a lack of snacks to stay energized. And maybe there's no nutritious dinner on the table when the weekend comes around.

One of Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan's focuses is on our region's hungry youth-and as manager of youth and nutrition programs at the nonprofit, Winona Bynum plays a huge part in getting nutritious food to kids in need.

"Children are so vulnerable. They can't go out and get a job if they're hungry. They are reliant on the adults in their life," Bynum, a registered dietician, explains. So, if a family is going through tough times, food might not be available.

That's where Gleaners comes in. With its School-Based Mobile Pantry program, food is delivered directly to various schools. "Those families whose children attend the schools are able to once a month get fresh produce and meats, and we try to have a healthy grain option," she says.

Kids receiving food from schools during the week can partake in the BackPack program, which sends those kids home with a bag of food for the weekend. SmartBites, a school snack program, supplies these kids with nutritious snacks, which could be used to help students stay after school for activities, Bynum explains.

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Both BackPack and SmartBites are part of Gleaners Kids Helping Kids program, meaning kids can volunteer to help feed fellow youngsters. Plus, the experience is packed with education. They learn about hunger issues, nutrition and can tour the Gleaners warehouse, too.

"We want them to know they are the ones who will be our future leaders, so it's important for them to know some of the issues we're facing and how to get involved early," Bynum says. Kids actually make up a good percentage of the helping hands at Gleaners-about 25 percent, she adds.

Bynum, who is a Detroit native, volunteered with various local organizations, including Gleaners, before becoming an employee. "I became more and more aware of the issues people faced around food," she says. It turned into a passion and a career.

A few of the other programs Bynum now heads up are the SNAP Outreach program, helping eligible citizens apply for SNAP benefits. Empty Bowls, a Kids Helping Kids program, allows kids to craft a decorative bowl for themselves and also one for fundraising. And there's the Fresh Food Share delivery program, bringing fresh produce to residents in Detroit and a few neighboring communities.

Here in Detroit, there are also urban farms, Eastern Market, farmers markets and other food initiatives, Bynum says. "Around food, Detroit is really exciting."

It's gratifying work, she says, seeing the region's kids volunteer to help other local kids. And, seeing those hungry children get the food they need. "When I talk to the teachers and they tell me some of the stories, some of the ways the families were impacted and helped, that is rewarding."

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