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.
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