Leveraging Diversity to Address the Gap in Child Food Security

What if a school community can develop a solution to end child hunger through the creation of more diverse images in the media?

Photo of Aswita Tan-McGrory
10 18

Written by

Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Two parents at Prospect Hill Academy (PHA) started PHA THRIVE food back pack program to feed children who have no access to food outside of school on the weekends. Funds to purchase the food come from an annual fundraiser and donations. The majority of the students at PHA come from diverse backgrounds and 70% qualify for free or low-cost lunch so donations from within the school community are limited. One of the parents realized there is a clear need for more images of diverse people in a health care setting. What if families in the school agreed to contribute to stock images by volunteering to pose in them and 100% of the proceeds of sales of photos went to purchase food for the program? By creating these images we can empower students and their families by giving them a sense of purpose in helping others in need, create a stronger sense of self and community through these images, and a belonging by creating a visual community that is lacking in social and marketing media.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)
  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

Dutch Indonesian



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Massachusetts

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Massachusetts

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Somerville, Cambridge, Everett, Malden, Medford, Boston, Lynn, Chelsea

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

PHA THRIVE hopes to address the problem of food security, and build a stronger school community by creating visual images that will generate revenue for program and empower students to have a stronger sense of self, the community they belong to and a purpose for solving the problem in their community. Solving a problem is infinitely more powerful if the community itself can generate and be part of the solution. It also removes the stigma within the community for those that need the help and provides an opportunity for them to contribute to the solution.

There is a need to drive change by empowering low-income, diverse, immigrant communities to understand they are the face and future of our increasingly diverse country. We can create images of these diverse communities that are lacking in our media and marketing of our health care organizations. And leverage the sale of these to create revenue to address the gaps in food security within our own school. I'm the Deputy Director at the Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital which focuses on finding solutions to address racial and ethnic disparities in health care. One of the biggest challenges we have at our Center is finding images and stock photos of diversity in health care that we can use in our publications. We can empower our children and their families by contributing to more images of people who look like them in the media, particularly in health care where these types of images are so relevant for engaging patients in their care. Someone once asked me whether I thought we would eradicate disparities in the next 50 years. My answer was until we solve problems like unequal access to good education for our children, disparities in health will probably always exist. How can we expect our kids to be successful in school when they go to school hungry? This is one of the root causes of why we see disparities in health care. With this project we can start to make some impact downstream in a thoughtful way that engages children and their families in thinking about social determinants like food security and how that impacts a child's ability to get an education, and providing a way that they can contribute in a meaningful way. We can develop a child’s sense of self by showing them they belong to a caring community through these images, and give them the purpose of helping their fellow students and families who may not have enough to eat. We will empower families at PHA by involving them through an Advisory Board that provides input on design and and approval of the stock images. These stock images will continuously change and evolve as new students and their families enter the school community. The Advisory Board will develop "criteria" for engagement of diverse communities, and consumers or organizations  will need to meet these in order to purchase the stock photos. The goal of this criteria is to identify stakeholders who want to truly engage diverse communities and develop a relationship between the school and stakeholders that is sustainable. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • LGBTQ or non-binary individuals
  • Religious minorities (non-Christian)
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

PHA Thrive distributes 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 2 drinks and 2 snacks on Fridays to the children who are in the program. We purchase food with funds raised through annual fundraiser and on-line donations. This new phase of the project would recruit families in the school to volunteer to pose for professional stock images in different settings (health care, education, business etc). Organizations can purchase these images to use in their materials to engage a diverse audience, while the revenue is another funding stream for the program. Customers and the families can contribute to the fundraising of this program in a meaningful way, and impact the school by creating a healthier, caring and empowered community.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

PHA THRIVE launched in 2014 in grades K-3. In the spring of 2016 we expanded to include the second campus of grades 4-6. We are providing meals on the weekends and school breaks to 65 children, which more than doubled from 2014. Students at PHA come from diverse backgrounds. Eighty-five percent of the students are non-white and 52% of children list a language other than English as their primary/native language. Last year we raised $13,700 through online donations, fundraisers and a grant. We collaborate with Foods for Free to provide fresh fruit for snacks to students; Community Cooks for quarterly dinner cooking demonstrations; and Whole Foods to bring educational events to the school, improve the quality of the food in the program, and assist with fundraising. The overall goal is to create a community that comes together to help children be better equipped to do well in school.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $10k - $50k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The program relies on a mix of school staff and two parent volunteers, an annual fundraiser, online donations and a grant. The 2nd phase of this project uses the sale of the diverse stock images to create a business model that funds the program, and identifies stakeholders who meet the criteria for engaging diverse communities and develops a long-term relationship with them.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

There are similar themes in the Green Schoolyards, Our Stories Matter, All about Food and Let’s Get Growing. The innovation is going beyond traditional fundraising efforts and grant writing, and taking advantage of a dearth of stock images of diverse people in social media and marketing, developing a business model that will meet this need, and creating a sustainable source of income for the food security program within the school. This idea is something that can easily be brought to scale by other projects because it’s about empowering children to contribute to improving their well being.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

In the U.S. the minority population is growing and projected to be more diverse. The US Census Bureau projects that by 2020 the child population will be a majority-minority and by 2044 the US would be a majority minority population. This shift in demographics will mean that all organizations, including health care and education, will have to think about how to engage this increasingly diverse community in their services. Healthcare is also paying more attention to social determinants of health (such as education and food security) and how this impact health outcomes.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

RWJF email

Program Design Clarity

The program is open to any PHA student and their siblings (even if at other schools). Caregivers fill out a simple application. Two parent volunteers shop at wholesale grocers each week and distribute the food to students for the weekend. During school breaks students receive a $25 gift card to a local grocery store. Every week Food for Free provides fresh fruit that is available to any student who needs it. Every other month Community Cooks hosts an evening home cooked dinner event open to all families.

Community Leadership

PHA THRIVE will work with a family Advisory Board to get input on the design and approval of stock images, and the "criteria" for engagement of diverse communities that consumers will need to meet to be able to purchase them. These images and the "criteria" will be community driven and provide a voice and leadership in a way that has not previously been present before in both media and marketing.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

We can empower low-income, diverse, immigrant communities to understand they are the face and future of our increasingly diverse country by creating images that are lacking in our media and marketing. The sale of these images will be at a national level that can engage other stakeholders to consider who may be absent in their marketing that is part of the demographic population that they need to reach.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

For phase 2 of the project, families contribute to stock images and 100% of the proceeds of sales of photos go to purchase food for the program. By creating these images we can empower students and their families by giving them a sense of purpose in helping others in need, create a stronger sense of self and community through these images, and a belonging by creating a visual community that is lacking in social and marketing media.

Leadership Story

Aswita: Someone asked me whether we would eradicate racial and ethnic disparities in the next 50 years. I said until we solve problems like unequal access to good education for kids, disparities in health will exist. This was a turning point in realizing we need to go further upstream to solve our problems in health care. Barbara: A trip to Ethiopia first spurred my interest in addressing hunger. It took my daughter starting PHA for me to become aware of children in our community whose families struggle with food security and that I did not need to travel so far to address childhood hunger.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Pioneer for Children's Wellbeing

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)


Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)



Join the conversation:

Photo of Claire Wilson

Fresh food is a right. Malnourished children a few miles from the seat of government is a crime. If a country cares more about tax-cuts for the rich than the health of its children, it is doomed. ALthough according to https://jetwriters.com/food-politics-essay/ we are trying to keep the quality stadards of our food (which is important) by pumping money into politics andrelated stuff but are ignoring the coutnries where kids are on a verge of starvation

View all comments