CAMDEN, Del.—Inside a squat building in this town of 3,500 people just outside the state capital of Dover, six high-school students sat around a table last week, each holding a stack of small laminated cards. One girl had her spare arm wrapped around her five-month-old daughter, who was glancing around in that startled way that only babies and small birds can.
Michelle Freedman, a representative of the local food bank, led the students in an exercise. “This game is called ‘What’s in my pantry?’” Freedman explained. “This going to be just like Top Chef, except it’s what happens at the end of the month when your SNAP has run out and your WIC has run out.”
This session served as a health class of sorts for students of the Delaware Adolescent Program Inc., a network of three schools for pregnant teenagers and those who have recently given birth. Delaware has the highest rate of unintended pregnancy in the nation by some measures, and the reasons why are evident in some of the DAPI students’ life stories: rough childhoods, misinformation, and unpredictable access to birth control.
By the time girls arrive at DAPI, their lives are too complicated for the standard health-class self-esteem pep talks. For them, it’s time to get down to brass tacks—like how to stretch a skimpy food budget as a single mom. DAPI frequently invites guest speakers, such as Freedman, to provide real-world tips.
The girls flipped their cards over. Each card had a food item scribbled on it, and together they represented the only hypothetical products she could use until her next welfare check came. Most had been dealt an unhappy hodge-podge to the tune of “lentils, apricots, pasta, and beets.”