Colombia: Fundación SACIAR’s dining temples are the heart of a community

While Colombia is a high middle-income country, there are still high rates of inequality, poverty, and food insecurity. The most recent statistics in 2019 show that 4.6 percent of the population was undernourished and 1 in 10 children suffered from chronic malnutrition.

Fundación SACIAR, a food bank located in Medellín, Colombia and a member of Asociación de Bancos de Alimentos de Colombia (the national network of food banks in Colombia), has run a program to provide meals to children facing food insecurity since 2002. In 2019 these templos comedores, or “dining temples,” provided nutritious lunches daily to 1,500 children at 14 sites in and outside of Medellín. Some dining temples also serve breakfast, although the need for this service has decreased with the expansion of the national government’s school breakfast program. A food bank nutritionist helps develop the menus for the dining temples. The lunches provide 35 percent of a child’s energy and nutrition requirements for healthy development. The lunch program requires community participation: Mothers and other family members take turns preparing the lunches for the children. While the lunches are free of charge to the children, the support of the family members to cook the meals is a way for them to contribute to the program and the health of their children.

The dining temples serve as more than just kitchens—they are community centers. In addition to food, SACIAR and its partners provide food education, health and hygiene education, psychosocial care, and training to children and their families. Some dining temples include community rooms, sports courts, gardens, and libraries. On weekends, they serve as churches, an important piece of community infrastructure for the neighborhoods.

The lunches provide 35 percent of a child’s energy and nutrition requirements for healthy development.

The dining temple lunch programs improve nutrition and health outcomes among the children they serve. They also improve participants’ eating habits. When children first arrive at a dining temple, they often do not want to eat the vegetables and meat served in the lunch. However, after continued participation in the program, the children begin to eat all of the fresh food provided. They learn how to use utensils and get along with other children. SACIAR also reports seeing changes in attitudes and values of the mothers and families who participate in the programming provided.

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