As I’ve traveled around to parish programs I’ve noticed refreshments and also the absence of refreshments. Does serving food at a meeting increase participation? Serving food to 4-H audiences means more organization and work. Is it necessary? If we feed them, will they come?
According to Forbes writer, David Teten, higher attendance is the norm when refreshments are served. However, he makes a point to say that the foods served may make clients sluggish and sleepy if they come in the form of muffins, pastries, and high calorie processed treats.
One study at the Mayo Clinic indicated that the presence of food affected people’s decision on whether or not to attend functions.
Coffee? As an adult, coffee is kind of a deal breaker for me. So at the minimum, serving coffee would be expected. Maybe it’s a habit or a way to stave off a caffeine headache, but I do look for coffee around 6:00 AM, 10:00 AM, and 2:00 PM. Travel cups are essential, but having fresh coffee offered at a meeting is a treat.
The world of 4-H includes meeting after meeting. Interacting with audiences is the life blood of the program and serving food does probably increase attendance. Let’s look at little closer at the details in the decision to food or not to food!
Financial Issues-Committing to serve food or refreshments can become a financial burden on a program. Whatever the participation, if food is served money has to come from somewhere. To offset the cost, perhaps a portion of dues collected could go toward the food. Or maybe a sponsor could be located for each meeting. Participants might not mind bringing in something, however, food safety would become an issue to address. Fundraisers, grants, and donations serve a purpose, but they also mean more balance and work for 4-H agents.
Simplicity-Keep it simple. At one junior leader meeting, I recall having a crock pot of chili and cheese set up and ready to go. The kids were asked to bring tortilla chips, plates, napkins, and drinks. It was simple and fun. No one complained and actually we had plates for the next three meetings from the packages left over. Gumbo, chili, sandwiches, or prepared vegetable/fruit trays. Kids will eat basically anything provided and would be grateful.
Time of Day-Consider the time of day that meetings will take place. If the meeting is in the mid-morning, food may not really be expected. Bottled water may be just enough. Lunchtime and dinnertime would be the obvious times to try to avoid holding meetings, unless the point is to have a group for a working lunch.
Expectations and Schedules-Providing refreshments is another task expected of 4-H agents. It is appropriate to ask for volunteer parents to assist with this expectation. Give them the tools and the permission to use the 4-H office kitchen and step back to empower them to provide a fun atmosphere for their youth. They probably do not mind and would be more than willing to take a turn.
Louisiana’s culture promotes hospitality. Many people would not dream of visiting someone without a gift to share with the hostess. Regardless of what you decide to do, it’s a good policy to display food brought by guests, but also to insure food safety by making sure food is served at the proper temperature. Bon appetit!