The Key To Solving Teen Hunger? Involving Teens.

So, how do we fix the problem?

The report outlined a number of proposed solutions, including increasing the amount of food provided by the federal nutrition assistance program, or SNAP, and expanding programs that expand job opportunities for low-income youth.

Progress is already being made toward another solution outlined in the report, which involves teens directly: making food charity programs, like food banks, more teen-friendly.

A pilot program in Portland, Oregon, aimed at addressing food insecurity in the New Columbia neighborhood, a public housing community on the city’s north side that also struggles with access to affordable, fresh healthy food, is having an impact on this front and was featured in the report.

The signature piece of the program, led by a group of teens called the Youth Community Advisory Board and supported by Feeding America, is its monthly Harvest Share, when the Oregon Food Bank drops off free, fresh organic food that the teens distribute to families in need. 

The Harvest Share has been a tremendous success, serving more than 100 households each month, according to Assefash Melles, who oversees the program. Last month, she said, the youth provided food for 120 food-insecure households.

The New Columbia program is now entering its second phase, where the teens will train a younger class of volunteers through a 15-week youth empowerment curriculum. This will enable more of the community’s youth to directly participate in the council’s mission to reduce the stigma that often blocks teens and their families from accepting help.

The fact that teens are directly involved in both planning and executing the program is key to its success, Melles said.

“Sometimes, as adults, we don’t go to the kids and ask for solutions. We put programming in place without really asking them,” Melles told The Huffington Post. “You need to do an assessment, understand them and their families and build a trusting relationship. When you build that trust, it’s amazing what comes out. They know what they want to do and they own that.”

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