Did you know in Wyandotte County, one in three children aren’t getting enough to eat? Across the Kansas City metro area, the numbers are one in five — not much better. Even when their families can afford food, many children live in neighborhoods with too few grocery stores and too many fast food chains.
To combat hunger and provide fresh food for families with very young children, KC Healthy Kids connects farmers and early education centers to make sure children have healthy food at home.
Since 2020, more than 200 families at early care centers have received free weekly farm boxes filled with products purchased from more than 30 local farmers. The program runs for 8-12 weeks during the growing season each year, and not only are the bountiful boxes full of healthy, delicious foods, they are also delivered to their early care centers, so busy parents didn’t have to make another stop on the way home.
At the height of the pandemic, farmers’ contracts with schools and restaurants were canceled, but the produce was still growing in their fields. By signing up for farm shares, families helped the farmers receive income and prevent food waste. A majority of the food was purchased through the Kansas City Food Hub, which also assembled and delivered the farm boxes, and some was grown at Splitlog Farm and Orchard. Funding for free farm boxes for early care centers was provided by Frederick and Louise Hartwig Family Fund, The Mader Foundation, PNC Bank, Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas CARES ACT and by individual donors.
Denise (not her real name) is a Wyandotte County mom who signed up for our free farm box program. Through access to better food and some education, she and her family improved their health. She lost 50 pounds and has seen her son’s challenging behavior improve. She now sees the need for policy and advocacy in their local community to bring an end to the limited offerings they have for groceries. Here's her story:
Changing things for me was also about changing the journey for my kids and teaching them. When we got our first farm box from KC Healthy Kids, my kids didn’t know what things were. I had to tell them that these were vegetables. When we got more boxes, the kids would be excited. We opened them together, then Googled them together. We learned this is a beet; this is a zucchini. The kids helped make hard boiled eggs and season the food. It was a whole event.
As a government employee, I’m required to live in our county — developers aren’t keeping the people living here in mind. We only have Walmart as a convenient grocery store and a lot of fast food. To get anything else you have to drive far from here. My neighbors and I talk all the time about how we need a better grocery store. All my neighbors are affected by it. My family feels so much better now. We didn’t know what we were missing.
For Meighan Piefer, director at two participating centers, the program was an eye-opener.
“Honestly I had no idea how many of my "middle income" families needed food,” Meighan said. “I was surprised how fast the boxes were grabbed up and taken. We asked families to call and reserve a box if they were arriving after 5pm. We put the boxes out at 3:50 and they were gone by 5.”
By the numbers
Families at one center wanted to express their thanks. Here are some excerpts from their notes:
“I just wanted to say "thank you" for coordinating the fresh food deliveries. We had a baby this fall, and it came at the perfect time, where it was very difficult to go to grocery stores and pick out any sort of fresh food during this pandemic. I felt better about what I was putting in my body while I was breastfeeding, and my 4-year-old also has more knowledge now of certain veggies like turnips and squash.”
“Our family has been extremely grateful to be apart of this program. The veggies and fruit were always fresh and very delicious and helped out a lot when we were already out and needing food. I’ve also, been able to learn about new vegetables that were absolutely delicious!”
“The veggies were a life saver, especially when we ended up getting Covid and couldn’t get to the store for anything fresh. We would go through the eggs with the first few days because my boys loved them so much!!! The best boxes also had kale. My boys loved the kale baked and I could have used more kale! The lettuce was awesome because it lasted sooo long! We truly cannot thank you enough for this program. It helped my family so much!”
Photo: The produce in this photo is what one family received in a free farm box earlier this month. The Merc Coop in KCK donated bags for delivery. Donations in any amount help us also provide meat, cheese, eggs and honey for families who struggle to make ends meet.
Want to be a part of KC Healthy Kids' Local Food solution? Donate today
Kansans will soon be paying a lower sales tax rate at the grocery store after Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly signed a tax cut into law that was approved by state lawmakers. The measure cuts the 6.5% state sales tax on groceries to 4% on Jan. 1, 2023. After that, scheduled reductions would take it to 2% in 2024 and zero by Jan. 1, 2025.
The proposal does not affect local sales taxes on groceries. Those are in addition to the state’s 6.5% tax. It is one of only seven states in the nation that fully taxes groceries, and at 6.5 percent, it’s the second-highest rate in the country.
KC Healthy Kids has been sounding the alarm about this harmful tax since 2014, when we rallied our partners and began working with the Kansas Legislature on both sides of the aisle to eliminate the state sales tax on groceries.
“Over the last seven years, we’ve worked with grocers, economists, hunger relief agencies, and consumers to educate Kansas decision makers about all the ways the grocery tax hurts Kansans,” Beth Low-Smith, vice president for policy at KC Healthy Kids said.
As a result of this work, in October 2014, two members of the Kansas Senate — a Republican and a Democrat — announced they would pursue legislation to eliminate the sales tax on food. Republican Michael O’Donnell and Democrat Oletha Faust-Goudeau, both from Wichita, said their proposal would likely phase out the tax over several years.
“As bipartisan support for eliminating the grocery tax has grown, so has the urgency of this issue. It’s time for decision makers in Topeka to do what’s right for the physical and economic health of Kansas and do away with this outdated and harmful tax on groceries,” Beth says.
In 2015, KC Healthy Kids’ food policy staff partnered with Wichita State to publish a series of white papers showing the damaging effects of the sales tax: it drives shoppers across state lines, hurts lower-income families more, and hurts rural grocery stores.
The elimination of the state food sales tax applies to food purchased at grocery stores, farmers markets and anywhere grocery food items are sold.
According to Governor Kelly’s office, a Kansas family of 4 would save an average of $500 dollars on their grocery bill every year. That’s extra money that could go to school supplies, gas, or bills, instead. The plan would not divert resources from other state services or agencies.
In March 2021, due to COVID restrictions, we offered an online workshop in place of the Champions for Health Youth Summit. The Jaleo Project was a 4-week flamenco dance and visual arts virtual workshop taught by artists Adrianne D. Clayton and Melinda Hedgecorth to help kids explore what happiness means in their communities.
Twenty-five Girls on the Run athletes took part, and 6 of the workshop videos were made public so anyone could learn the dance and make fans at home, at school or with their community group.
Girls on the Run coach and elementary school teacher Rebecca Perkins explained what the project meant to her and her students.
When school had to go 100% online during the pandemic, it was a challenging time for students. After nearly a year the kids were struggling with school work, with connecting to their friends, and they were missing the experience of recess. We did Girls on the Run virtually, but the kids wanted more; it was through that program that my school was partnered with KC Healthy Kids and introduced to The Jaleo Project. When we decided to do The Jaleo Project with the kids it provided a huge mental health benefit for the students. Students didn’t want to turn cameras on for school, but they did for this. The physical part was important too. It got them up and moving in a fun way. They even practiced beyond the organized times. It also supported parents, letting them see their kids doing something fun and active and happy. We heard from parents that they wanted to keep it going.
KC Healthy Kids facilitated the connection and provided a turnkey option for the schools and teachers. There was a supply drop off for the kids to be able to create their fans for the dance. Kids really appreciated that their fans were being featured in a public setting on display. The women who led it did a fantastic job working with kids on their level. They were great and calming fears and nerves. If KC Healthy Kids offered this again, my kids would sign up in a heart-beat. Especially for an in person setting. They loved it. It was so much fun!
Flamenco is a traditional style of dance in Spain. The audience often participates by yelling words of encouragement, like Olé!, to the performers. This is called jaleo, and in the workshop kids learn how jaleo is used to encourage flamenco performers, and how to recognize the ways they encourage themselves and each other.
The project culminated on the United Nations' International Day of Happiness, March 20, 2021, with a virtual celebration featuring a video dance performance.
Jaleo fans made by kids in the workshop and at Children's Mercy were displayed at the hospital March through September of 2021 and were seen by thousands of people including children, employees, pediatric specialists, volunteers, and visitors to the hospital who travel from 46 states and 17 countries. Nearly half of care provided at Children's Mercy is paid for with Medicaid and other government assistance.
The exhibit featured mini flamenco lessons, which people could access using a QR code, and KSHB-41 shared a story about it in their good news series, #WeSeeYouKC. You can see photos of the exhibit here.
Want to be a part of KC Healthy Kids' Mental Health solution? Donate today
Congratulations to the following classrooms that participated in the Champions for Health Challenge! Winning classrooms will receive $1000 awards for health and wellness projects at their schools.
See the Winning Submissions
The challenge encourages students to think critically about how their surroundings—walking trails or broken sidewalks, safe playgrounds or blighted lots, schoolyard gardens or fast food restaurants—impact their health.
Past winners have purchased playground equipment, water bottle fountains, pedal desks, and hosted Zumba parties, local food tastings and more. All projects are designed for kids by kids.
Since the contest began in 2013, KC Healthy Kids has awarded $61,000 to 136 classrooms in the six-county metro area.
Challenge Winners – $1,000 Awards
Honorable Mention Recipients – $100 Awards
Learn more about the Champions for Health Challenge
At Splitlog Farm and Orchard in KCK, we’re partnering with Community Housing of Wyandotte County to grow fresh produce for the community. This summer, that little farm fed a lot of people!
“These numbers show how important urban farms are in building a strong local food system where families don’t have to go far to find affordable, locally grown food,” says Rachael McGinnis Millsap, farm to institution director at KC Healthy Kids.
Community Housing of Wyandotte County established Splitlog Farm and Orchard in 2014 to support their community building and engagement goals and in 2018, formed a partnership with KC Healthy Kids to operate the farm.
Your phone calls, letters, testimony, emails and social media shares worked. This year we’ve asked you to speak up for several policies that increase opportunities for healthy eating and active living in Kansas and Missouri. Let’s reflect on the successes we have had because of our unified voice.