In 2007 I co-founded Spoon to help two groups of children with a high degree of malnutrition: children with disabilities and children who live outside their family in residential care centers or foster care. Since then, Spoon, based in Portland, Oregon, has successfully implemented programs in 19 countries.
We currently have programs in Zambia, Uganda, Lesotho, Croatia, Zimbabwe, Vietnam and Belarus, as well as a US-based program that benefits children who are in foster care or at risk of being placed in foster care.
The problem I’m trying to solve
Good nutrition, safe nutrition and nurturing care during early childhood are the foundation for lifelong health and well-being, but children with disabilities and those living outside their families experience high levels of malnutrition. We seek to ensure that children with disabilities have access to nutrition and nutritional practices that meet their unique needs, and that children who are often excluded from feeding programs are included and given an opportunity to thrive. We bring life-saving nutrition to children who are not growing and developing properly. Based on our research, we estimate that 250 million children worldwide could benefit from our programs.
The moment that sparked my passion
There were many. The first was in 2006 when I adopted my oldest daughter, who was 5 at the time, from a baby home in Kazakhstan. I saw a lot of children with malnutrition there, and I wanted so badly to help, but because I was there to adopt her, I couldn’t. That was the beginning of it.
My daughter had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy; she could not walk, she had low muscle tone and she was in pain. She was small – at the age of 5 she was wearing clothes for a 1 year old. Once she got the right nutrition, she grew 20 centimeters in the first 12 months and she walked, ran, played on the playground, had full conversations and rode a tricycle. That was another inspiration – it didn’t take much to change her life.
In 2007, there was another mother in my neighborhood who adopted a child from Kazakhstan, and we kept talking about malnutrition. One discussion led to another and Spoon evolved. I wanted to give these children a chance and a voice. Connecting the dots between my previous career as a speech therapist and the one I needed as a mother of a child with special needs, I’ve been able to create strategies, goals, and work plans to improve the health and well-being of children in our programs.
What I wish other people knew
We know how much attention and care is needed to raise young children. If they don’t get it, they fall through the cracks. I wish people knew how big this malnutrition problem is and that it is solvable. These are children of all ages, and they are in every country. This is truly a global problem.
Advice to others who want to make a difference
Network! Reach as many people as possible and learn as much as you can before diving in. Don’t assume you have the answers. Make sure you really know what the problem is before determining what the solutions are.
Why my approach is unique
We truly strive to influence all 250 million children who need us, and we are collecting a robust dataset from 10,000 children – through our Count Me In app – on what the problems are and what is working to redirect those nutritional needs. We then use that information to advocate for and drive policy and practice changes by partnering with government programs and nonprofit organizations that help children at high risk of malnutrition worldwide.
Developed by a food scientist and a nutrition specialist, our curriculum can be used both in the classroom and online. Once someone has completed the training, the app will help them implement it. In 2021, 352 people were trained in our curriculum, and nearly 14,000 children benefited from improved nutrition and nutrition practices. Ultimately, we want to create a world where all children are valued and well-nourished.