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Kelly Ann Kowalski has been a nutrition and anti-hunger advocate for more than a decade, and she still can’t believe the Buffalo Public Schools started a Breakfast in the Classroom program two years ago across the district.

She also can’t believe that teachers have filed a grievance – which is still being considered – seeking to end a practice that so many anti-poverty supporters had been pushing for so many years.

“Before the district started Breakfast in the Classroom, 6,000 kids were getting breakfast,” she said. “Now, the numbers go up to 18,000 to 24,000. Basically, this has given students the opportunity to eat.

“With Buffalo schools, the test scores are horrendous, we have all these problems going on but there have been so many studies that show that if kids get breakfast, their test scores improve. I can’t understand why the teachers are arguing about this. Change is so hard, but with something like Breakfast in the Classroom, you’d think it’s a win-win situation. I firmly believe this: Eating together is a way to teach kids how to clean up after each other. That’s important, too. If we can’t teach them how to clean up, how are we going to teach them arithmetic?

“… I totally get that people are harder to work with than even 10, 15 years ago, but use it as a teaching moment.”

Kowalski, 45, was born and raised in South Cheektowaga, where she still lives – and gardens.

She has become a force in the Western New York food movement on several fronts. She has been program director the last 13 years with Food For All, a nonprofit based at the Network of Religious Communities building on Delaware Avenue, near Gates Circle. Kowalski also has been program director for the Food Bank of WNY Garden Program for the last decade; teaches or oversees cooking demos Fridays at the Grider Street farmers’ market near Erie County Medical Center and Saturdays at the Colden Community Farmers’ Market on Supervisor Avenue in Colden; and is a member of two herbal cooking groups.

Q. Talk about Food for All. How did you become involved? What is its mission?

A. I answered the ad in the newspaper. It’s interfaith. … It was founded in 1982 and it serves residents of Erie and now Genesee counties. Our objectives are to educate the community on the reality and impact of hunger and the need for food security, assist people in securing the available resources, research the root causes of hunger and act as advocates for change, work with government, community-based and religious organizations to maximize the availability of nutritious food for Western New Yorkers. We promote the SNAP program, formerly food stamps, so we help people apply for SNAP and do outreach. … We’ll meet anybody anywhere. A lot of people call us (at 882-7705) and we prescreen them to see if they’re eligible.

Q. What is the greatest danger to the poor nutritionally? What about all of us?

A. When it comes to nutrition, so many times you want to say it’s a problem for the poor, but it’s really an everybody problem. Eating convenient processed foods I think is the biggest problem, and I think so many people have gone so far away from cooking, making things with fresh fruits and vegetables, cooking what’s in season or preserving stuff for when it’s not going to be available.

Q. What groups or organizations help with Food For All, and how do they do so?

A. It’s completely grants and donations. We subcontract for an organization called Hunger Solutions of New York State. They’re based in Albany. Big supporters include the Oishei Foundation and Hunger Solutions. If somebody wants to donate, they can send a check to Food For All, 1272 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, NY 14209.

Q. You also are manager of the Food Bank of WNY Garden Project at 91 Holt St. What does that involve?

A. The garden started in 1992 and it laid dormant for a few years, and in 2002, the nutritionist at the food bank at the time picked it up. It started very small. In 2003, I had my book club adopt a bed and they did that for the next two years.

Basically we found that organizations adopting these beds really didn’t work. Everybody loves planting, but nobody really loves weeding and taking care of a garden. So we decided to find income-eligible families to grow their own food. They get to keep what they grow. They do share, so we provide everything and they provide the blood, sweat and tears. That has been happening for about the last eight years. It’s really exciting. This year, we showed them how to can pickles. Last year, we did grape jelly. We have grapes there. Other years, we’ve canned tomatoes, done other jellies. We did a seed-saving class at the garden, as well. We have 11 families at the garden.

Q. For those interested in learning to eat healthier, what are the first steps to take?

A. It’s just trying different things, trying different food, food that’s local and in season because you’re going to find it tastes different than something not in season at the grocery store.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

On the Web: Find some of Kelly Ann Kowalski’s recipes at blogs.buffalonews.com/refresh