KY Kids Eat fights against child hunger

Contributed photo

The Street Eatz bus ready to bring food to Madison County children.

Fewer Kentucky children are spending their summers wondering where their next meals are coming from, thanks to the KY Kids Eat program.

The recently released 2019 KY Kids Eat Summer Success Report, according to a news release, shows the number of meals served to Kentucky kids in 2019 has increased by 10%. The same news release states that more than 3.2 million meals were served in the summer of 2019.

KY Kids Eat, explained Coordinator Kate McDonald, is a collaboration with the Summer Food Service Programs (SFSP). The SFSP is federally funded through the United States Department of Agriculture and administered by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), according to a news release.

McDonald said in an email that the SFSP was piloted in 1968 as an extension to the National School Lunch Program and in 1975 became its own program. McDonald said she believes the program is not only a statewide coalition that strives to increase awareness of the hunger issue with officials, but also a partnership with the community that forms the summer sponsors.

According to the Success Report, 186,660 children in Kentucky face hunger. This means 18.4% of students are food insecure, according to a news release.

Despite that, McDonald explained, Kentucky is defying the national trend of a "downtick in foods served" by the SFSP. McDonald said that the food service program has grown by almost double digit percentages during the past five years.

McDonald said she believes the reason Kentucky is doing so well with its summer program is in part because of the KDE. McDonald explained the KDE helps train summer sponsors as well as encouraging them to be innovative. She also said the awareness and support from policy makers in Kentucky has been very good. McDonald said the majority of summer sponsors for the program are school districts, one of which is Madison County.

McDonald noted one of the main innovations working for Kentucky is the mobile meals program. Traditionally, the summer SFSP would be held in places such as schools and libraries. But for children in rural communities, who might not have transportation, it was almost impossible for them to get to those sites. The Success Report showed 19% of children who ate free- or reduced-priced lunch during the 2018 school year had access to summer feeding programs in 2018.

"Sponsors realized that the way to reach kids is to go to them," McDonald said.

So they refurbished old school buses, vans and more to bring food to neighborhoods or parks that kids could easily access. One such refurbished school bus is the Street Eatz bus: a partnership between the Madison County Food Service Program and Smokin' Jax, a family-owned barbecue restaurant in Berea. McDonald said almost one out of four sites in the summer of 2019 were mobile meal sites.

According to a news release, 85 summer meal sponsors embraced the mobile meal site idea, and 11 of them received grants to support the program as well as meal expansion from the No Kid Hungry Kentucky campaign. The success report explained the summer sponsors are reimbursed by the program for their work to help keep Kentucky kids from being hungry.

Whether food is being served by a refurbished bus or in a school lunch room, it is clear that the KY Kids Eat program is working to make sure its kids can spend their summer enjoying the warm weather instead of wondering where their next meal will come from.

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