Family dinners bring the community together to share a meal and build relationships
By Emily Cox
More than 250 families gathered in mid-November at Muncie’s Head Start, a federal preschool program for children ages birth to 5 from low-income families. On the menu: A Thanksgiving-inspired feast paired with activities — from pumpkin pie Play-Doh to a book walk (think cake walk, but you get a book instead of treats when your number is called). The cafeteria filled with laughter as children created headbands with paper feathers and snacked on ham and dinner rolls.
We joined the festivities to gather kids’ voices for our storytelling project — Harvesting Hope — to capture the stories and recipes of Muncie. We invited children to color their favorite food or meal as parents engaged with them in conversations about the importance of food in their lives. Parents added notes to the coloring pages to explain the artwork, which was often a bit difficult to interpret.
One child drew a bunch of different colored circles all over his page, and he told us it was mashed potatoes, which puzzled us until his mom explained she often adds food coloring to mashed potatoes to encourage him to eat them. It was fun, and at times, heartwarming to watch the kids interact with their parents — sharing traditions and fond memories as they colored together.
We also asked several kids and adults at the event to answer the prompt “food is to me” writing their response on a white sheet of paper they held up as a photographer captured their image. Children said things from “family time” to “makes my stomach full,” sometimes after extra encouragement through a nudge and a smile from a parent.
Families dropped off recipe cards where they shared a cherished dish. On the back, they were encouraged to explain why this recipe is special to them or share a memory attached to it.
The event was part of a series of monthly dinners Head Start hosts to inspire community among families it serves through educational and community resources, health and nutrition services, and financial coaching. Muncie has the highest poverty rate in Indiana, and in Muncie Community Schools, more than 74 percent of all children qualify for free and reduced lunch. Head Start, located on the east side of Muncie, works to help income-eligible families through their free preschool and early childhood services.