“We realized that we could fight these causes collectively because they're core pillars for children: eating, learning, playing,” said Ayesha. “All three of these elements are essential for raising amazing children who can thrive as they grow into adulthood.”
Managing the Challenges of the Pandemic
Launching in July 2019, the plan for Eat. Learn. Play. was to focus on access to healthy food. But with the onset of the pandemic, the team realized it had to respond to this need faster than ever imagined.
Stephen shared that when schools shut down, they realized how many kids rely on school meal programs for breakfast and lunch. The Eat. Learn. Play. team had to move fast to find partners to help figure out how to safely and quickly open food distribution sites for those kids and their families. “It was a collaborative effort,” shared Stephen. “People showed up in a meaningful way and volunteered to spring into action. Since April 2020, we've distributed over 17 million meals.”
Valuing Literacy in Early Childhood
In addition to providing healthy nutrition, supporting early childhood education is a key pillar of the Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation. Ayesha said she is often asked, "Why literacy first?" She shared that only 19% of Black students and 24% of Latinx students in the Oakland Unified School District are reading at their grade level.
Literacy, she continued, “It’s the root. It's the beginning of everything. Once those literacy skills are there, studies show kids thrive throughout their entire education, especially if we get them reading at grade level before third grade.”
Stephen added, “We're focusing on early-stage development, so kids can thrive and set the foundation for a lifelong journey in learning. This is a small step, but we'll see lasting change.”
Forming Partnerships and Strong Teams
“Anything great that you do in life, you don't do it alone. We all know that,” said Stephen. He discussed how Eat. Learn. Play. has collaborated with World Central Kitchen, Oakland Unified School District, and Alameda County Community Food Bank, organizations that intimately understand the needs of the community. These organizations have been supporting the community for a long time, yet they continue to need more funding and resources to carry out their missions. He added, “You can do amazing work, create programs, create an impact with the right collaborative partners that will set up a long-lasting run of changing kids' lives.”
When forming new partnerships, Stephen said it’s essential that partners listen to the community. “Workday has been an amazing ambassador and believer in what we're doing at Eat. Learn. Play., and was one of our first and biggest donors in terms of our early work, especially in the food space,” he added. “At Eat. Learn. Play., we ensure 100% of the money that comes into our foundation goes into the community. It's our job to ensure we're shepherds of those resources with the partners we work with.”
Ayesha expressed how they’re fortunate to have a great team and partners. “We operate from a place of impact over legacy,” she said. “It's not about us. It's about all of these amazing partners that we have and are bringing together, and it's about the work. It's about the change that we wish to see within the community.” Finding partners that share that sentiment and value-set is essential.
Destigmatizing the Need for Help
Since the onset of the pandemic, everything has become more challenging, including travel to food distribution centers. With the creation of the Eat. Learn. Play. Bus, the team will be able to distribute 50,000 hot meals and 500,000 pounds of produce a year to the community. “I'm grateful that we're able to meet people where they are now, within the community,” said Ayesha.