University of the Cumberlands Donates 29,000 Pounds of Food for the Hungry

Students, faculty and staff at the University of the Cumberlands, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, set out to make sure no family in Whitley County, Ky., has to celebrate the holidays on an empty stomach.

For the university’s annual food drive, called Plates for a Purpose, the Cumberlands community donated 28,982 pounds of food and hygiene items to food pantries housed at the Williamsburg Independent School District; the Criminal Justice Program at the Corbin Area Technology Center; First Baptist Church (Williamsburg); Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church; and Shriners Church of Christ (Williamsburg).

“Watching food come in during Plates for a Purpose is always exciting to me. I can’t help but think of all the families who will be putting that food on their tables,” said Dr. Emily Coleman, provost at Cumberlands. “As a mom, I know how big the question, ‘What’s for dinner?’ is for families, especially kids. I’m thankful to everyone who donated to the food drive this year, helping ensure that every family in the community can answer that question with peace and confidence, knowing their pantry is full.”

Related: University of the Cumberlands ministry helps build beds for underprivileged children

This year’s total is the second highest amount the university has ever collected during Plates for a Purpose. The university broke its previous record (28,874 in 2017) back in 2020, bringing in 30,557 pounds of food for local food banks. The food drive has collected a total of 81,303 pounds of food for local food pantries since 2019 alone.

This year, Cumberlands expanded its approach from bringing in solely food items. It also collected hygiene items, such as shampoo, soap and toothpaste. The revision was based on feedback from local family resource officers about the greatest needs for some of their students. Approximately 2,500 pounds of hygiene items were collected as part of the 28,982-pound total.

The university has hosted a food drive every fall since 2011. A few years ago, the school refined its approach. Instead of asking for food in general, they asked for specific types of food each week to help ensure that whole, balanced meals would be collected. Instead of food banks receiving thousands of pounds of food from only one food group, they saw a variety of foods roll in, including proteins, carbs, fruits, veggies, and dairy.

The new title for the food drive, Plates for a Purpose, was born from the recent rebranding. According to Dr. Coleman, the shift in focus has benefited the campus community.

Related: This “DoGoodr” uses technology to feed the hungry and reduce food waste

“Any act of service we do is meant to glorify God and to help others. Those are our goals,” she said. “We had noticed that too much of our focus had become simply donating as much food as possible instead of thinking about the families who would be putting that food on their plates. Rebranding the food drive has helped the Cumberlands community keep our focus on nourishing the people in our community. Ultimately, that is what matters.”

Some Cumberlands students got involved from afar, like one online student from Pineville, Ky. She wanted to contribute to Plates for a Purpose, but she knew she couldn’t get the food to Williamsburg, Ky. (where the university is located0, so she reached out to Dr. Coleman. When Coleman told her she could still be part of the food drive as long as she kept up with the total amount raised and provided photos, the student went right to work. She and others collected 121 cans of food and fruit cups for First Baptist Church in Pineville.

“It was heartwarming that a student who isn’t even on campus still wanted to be part of the food drive, and it’s great knowing the impact of Plates for a Purpose has gone beyond Whitley County into other areas,” said Coleman.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of the Cumberlands website.

These Mercer University Students Serve the Homeless of Macon, Georgia

By Jennifer Falk

Lara Edgeman, a junior at Sullivan Foundation partner school Mercer University, has watched the Brookdale Resource Center in Macon, Ga., transform from an elementary school to a resource center for the homeless.

Edgeman taught third grade at Brookdale Elementary School as part of her major in education. Now she volunteers at the center as part of MerServe, the University’s student-led service programming board.

Classrooms now serve as bedrooms and clothing and hygiene closets, and the cafeteria provides a place to serve and eat meals.

“I think it’s a genius way to use the space,” Edgeman said.

Related: Mercer University partners with Real Impact Center to get girls excited about STEM

Lara Edgeman, a junior majoring in education at Mercer University, moves clothes at the Brookdale Resource Center.

Brookdale Elementary closed in June 2020 and moved to a new location as part of a school merger. The center opened in January as the Brookdale Warming Center to provide meals and shelter from the cold. Now the center also provides health evaluations, educational support, job search assistance and help finding permanent housing.

Edgeman was among nine Mercer students who volunteered at the Brookdale Resource Center on Friday, Dec. 3. They set to work clearing out a room and hallway filled with clothing, linens and hygiene products and placing them in their designated locations. Once empty, the room will be used as an office for a new case manager.

Most of the students have volunteered at Brookdale before.

“I absolutely love serving the community. As someone who comes from an underprivileged family, I want to help,” Lakeeya Brockington, a sophomore majoring in marketing, said as she moved books in the library. Previously, she helped serve lunch at the center.

Related: New Mercer University center could provide millions with access to clean water

Lakeeya Brockington and McKenna Kaufman move books at the Brookdale Resource Center.

Gabe Thomas, a senior double-majoring in psychology and criminal justice, said he keeps returning to Brookdale because he can see the impact it has on the people.

“It truly helps individuals of Macon,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of community service, but I feel like (the Brookdale Resource Center) helps the most individuals.”

The building is owned by Macon-Bibb County, with management of the program done by the United Way of Central Georgia Homeless Initiative. As of October, the center had served about 900 individuals. It averages about 100 guests at a time, and about 50 of those are children.

The students’ help has been invaluable, said Charity Lucas, the center’s client service specialist who instructed the Mercer volunteers.

“It makes a huge difference being able to free up time for us to do other things and make space for our case manager and clients,” she said.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Mercer University website.

UC’s Mountain Outreach Builds New Home for Young, Local Family

When simply walking downstairs to do your family’s laundry presents a safety hazard, it’s time for a change.

But for one family in Kentucky, it’s more than a change—it’s a whole new home.

Mountain Outreach (MO), a service-based ministry hosted by Sullivan Foundation partner school University of the Cumberlands, has provided a brand-new home for Tyler and Amber Hall and their three young children. The family moved in on September 15th and is overjoyed about living in the new space.

“I could probably cry about it. God is so good,” Amber said. “I wish I could personally thank everyone who made this possible. The Lord sees you. We are really, really thankful.”

“Stuff like this is important,” Amber added. “All good things come from the Lord. I truly believe that God sees Mountain Outreach, the donors who funded this home build, my family, everything. God sees this.”

Renting a house was the only financially feasible option for the Halls before. But along with renting came a few difficult factors. For one thing, Amber knew in the back of her mind that a landlord can decide to ask their tenants to leave at any point, and the tenants can’t control that. Additionally, when there is a lack of ownership, there is a lack of control; a renter can’t make a house feel like their own as fully as they might like to, since the property isn’t theirs.

Mountain Outreach volunteers have built homes for more than 150 families and renovated hundreds more.

Having a neighbor’s belongings in their basement, and the neighbor stopping by every now and then to remove an item or two, didn’t help Amber feel at home either. Besides, the staircase leading down to the laundry machines in the basement was extremely steep, making Amber worry for her safety, especially while she was pregnant.

Now, the Halls don’t have to worry about those problems anymore. They have their very own home that was built with high standards and good materials to keep the family safe and reduce costs over the years. During construction, MO asked the family to decide several elements of the home as well, such as the flooring, siding and roofing. Amber appreciated that. Before the house was even complete, it already felt like their own.

Tyler’s mother had heard about Mountain Outreach’s annual home build and pushed Tyler and Amber to apply. At first, they were hesitant. They had been working on building their credit, but they figured it would be years before it would be high enough for a bank to approve them to pay a mortgage. Still, they picked up an application at their church.

That same night at church, there was a revival. The pastor talked about challenging God, not in a fighting sense but in the sense of handing your biggest dreams to God and watching Him work. The Hall family took the sermon to heart. If they trusted God enough to hand Him their smaller dreams, they reasoned, why not their biggest one? They filled out the MO application.

Mountain Outreach director Rocky Brown

Soon, MO director Rocky Brown called Amber, and the family filled out additional paperwork and went through an interview process. Tyler’s parents got down on their knees regularly to pray with the family that they would be chosen to receive the house. Early one morning, Rocky called and started giving Amber all kinds of information about the home build. “I just want you to know,” he said, “that you’re the family.”

“We just knew it was going to happen,” Amber said. “Sometimes it was hard to have faith, but we just kept believing and putting our trust in the Lord.”

Moving into the new house was a “wow” moment for the family. The MO staff was excited for them, handing the keys to Tyler with big smiles on their faces. The family could have kept living in their rented home, handling the difficulties as they came and staying positive through it, but they are deeply thankful to have a new home all their own now, thanks to Mountain Outreach.

Since its inception in 1982, Mountain Outreach students and volunteers have completed more than 150 home building projects and completed renovations to hundreds more.  The program’s outreach includes numerous service projects that help provide children, the elderly, and financially struggling families with critical and urgent needs throughout the University of the Cumberlands service region.

The University of the Cumberlands has been ranked Kentucky’s No. 1 school for socially minded students and No. 15 nationwide.

This article has been edited and expanded from the original version appearing on the University of the Cumberlands website.

Shoes 4 the Soul: Taking the “First Step Out of Poverty” in Kentucky

According to Buckner International, shoes “are the first step out of poverty” for children around the world. For the 10th year in a row, staff and students at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of the Cumberlands is helping children in rural Appalachia take that first step with a program called Shoes 4 the Soul.

This year’s program consisted of donating shoes, socks, t-shirts and hygiene items to about 550 students across several elementary schools in Kentucky, including Pleasant View, Pine Knot, Boston, Whitley North, Whitley East, Whitley Central, and Williamsburg Independent elementary schools. Cumberlands staff and students brought the items directly to the schools to be handed out by their family resource officers to the children who needed the items.

“Shoes 4 the Soul helps these children in a few different ways,” said Caitlyn Howell, director of Appalachian Ministries, who has organized the program for the last few years. “I think the biggest thing is the shoes. Shoes are a distinctive thing that builds confidence for the kids. We’re meeting some essential needs, but we’re also meeting psychological needs for these kids by providing a brand-new pair of shoes. In some ways, we’re reaching beyond physical needs and helping build confidence that they will carry with them into their future.”

Related: University of the Cumberlands ministry helps build beds for underprivileged children

All Cumberlands’ undergraduate students participate in various community service opportunities each semester, supporting the university’s mission of impacting others in positive ways while teaching students leadership through service. Shoes 4 the Soul is just one event that allows Cumberlands students to give back to their community and serve the children in it.

“The kids are always excited,” said Tammy Stephens, the family resource director for Williamsburg Independent School District. “Most of the kids receiving these shoes don’t get any other pairs of shoes outside of what they get from our family resource center. Little boys especially wear through their shoes quickly with how hard they play. This gives them a good pair of shoes to wear every day.”

The University of the Cumberlands has made it a campus-wide goal to support at least 500 students each year with shoes and other essential items. It costs just $30 to provide a child with shoes, socks, t-shirts, and hygiene products at Shoes 4 the Soul. To sponsor a child, visit ucumberlands.edu/shoes4soul/give.  For more information on Cumberlands’ community service initiatives, visit ucumberlands.edu/community-service.

This story has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of the Cumberlands website.

Rivals Auburn, Alabama Kick Off Annual Food Fight to Help the Hungry

When 18th-ranked Auburn takes on No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl later this year, the Tigers will likely be the underdogs. But student teams at both Sullivan Foundation partner schools have a solid chance to win a competition to raise donations for a pair of regional food banks in the weeks leading up to the big game.

The Beat Auburn Beat Hunger (BABH) and Beat Bama Food Drive (BBFD) events started in 1994 to help the West Alabama Food Bank and the Food Bank of East Alabama respectively. Since then, students at the two rival universities have combined to raise more than 7 million pounds of donated food for Alabamians dealing with food insecurity.

In Alabama, nearly 800,000 people face food insecurity every day, and more than 225,000 of those are children, according to Feeding America, a U.S. hunger relief nonprofit. It’s a staggering figure, and something far too many have faced.

Related: Elon Musk’s brother wants to build “super farm” to combat food insecurity

Student teams at both Alabama and Auburn will work to raise awareness about food insecurity while collecting donations for their regional food banks during the annual food and fund drive.

This year’s event started on Oct. 1 and runs through Nov. 18.

“Food insecurity is in every state and every city,” Olivia Hannum, president of this year’s BABH team, said. “One in six Alabamians and one in four children face this. That’s what stood out to me. I really can’t imagine taking what I’ve learned and not doing anything with it.”

Last year, the Alabama team beat Auburn by raising 291,047 pounds of food, which fed people from November 2020 to June 2021. This year, the team has set a goal of 300,000 pounds for the food bank, which serves Tuscaloosa, Greene, Fayette, Hale, Lamar, Sumter, Pickens, Marion and Bibb counties.

The BBFD team at Auburn didn’t capture last year’s trophy, but they still collected 259,160 pounds of food for the Food Bank of East Alabama.

Related: Student volunteers pack 30,000 meals at Elon University’s Rise Against Hunger event

With more than 1,000 donation barrels stationed across campus and the city of Tuscaloosa, UA students, faculty, staff and community members can donate conveniently. The BABH team will collect the goods throughout the campaign, bringing them to the West Alabama Food Bank. Last year, due to the pandemic, the BABH team went virtual, accepting monetary donations in addition to canned goods. The team will offer the same options—along with invaluable learning experiences—this year.

“It was my freshman year, and what really struck me was when I learned about the children that are food-insecure in our state,” Hannum said. “I learned about the secret Meals Program where people put meals in schoolchildren’s bags to last them through the weekend. It’s so hard to see these little kids who have no control over their situation [and] are worried about their meals for the next three days. That was a driving force for me.”

“What began as a relatively small-scale event has become one of Alabama’s largest food drives,” said a representative for Auburn’s BBFD team in an Eagle Eye Auburn video. “The University of Alabama has won this Auburn/Alabama food fight the last four years in a row, so this year Auburn students are looking to take back the victory.”

Student Volunteers Pack 30,000 Meals at Elon University’s Rise Against Hunger Event

The energy was high in Phoenix Activities & Recreation Center on Sept. 4, as over 100 students from Sullivan Foundation partner school Elon University packaged 30,000 meals in just two hours at the annual Rise Against Hunger meal-packing event, hosted by Elon Volunteers.

As music played to keep spirits up, students wore masks, hairnets and gloves and worked at both sides of 10 tables, moving efficiently to scoop ingredients into bags. Volunteers then weighed and sealed them, and the sealed bags were packed up into boxes that were loaded onto the Rise Against Hunger truck. Keeping with the event’s tradition, a gong rang every time students packed 5,000 meals.

“We went so fast that we actually missed a couple,” said Autumn Cox, a first-year Elon student. “I’ve never seen it before, and it ran so smoothly, they really have it down to a science.”

Related: Auburn, Alabama students join forces to help food-insecure families

Last year, the Elon community volunteers were able to pack 23,000 meals for the Rise Against Hunger event.

Rise Against Hunger is an international hunger relief organization. Its goal is to end hunger across the globe. Rise Against Hunger regularly hosts meal-packing events, and this is the sixteenth time the event has been hosted at Elon.

After a year of virtual and hybrid events, students were excited to be attending the event in person. “I was really impressed and also just loved the energy of all the students,” Cox said, who is in her first year at Elon. “I’ve heard this from other campus partners that, especially this year, students are just so excited to be involved in things again.”

Some of the meals will be sent to Haiti, which was recently hit by an earthquake and then a tropical storm. Rise Against Hunger will follow up with volunteers to let them know where all of the meals have been sent.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Elon University website.

Berea College Receives Grant to Expand Efforts to Combat Food Insecurity

By Elora Overbey, Grow Appalachia

Sullivan Foundation partner school Berea College has been spearheading an important effort to reduce childhood hunger in the Berea, Ky. area. Now it has received backing from the Cigna Foundation to work with local school systems and surrounding communities to help close nutrition gaps within and outside of the school environment.

Grow Appalachia, a strategic initiative of Berea College, has received a $30,000 grant from the Cigna Foundation as part of the grant program, Healthier Kids for Our Future. It’s a five-year, $25 million global initiative focused on improving the health and well-being of children made possible by Cigna and the Cigna Foundation.

Grow Appalachia’s Berea Kids Eat Program has worked directly in Berea since 2016 to fight childhood hunger, increase healthy food access and support community food resiliency. To date, the program has served more than 400,000 meals to youth while supporting health and wellness initiatives and food security programming for low-income communities.

“We’re really excited that Cigna has helped to fully braid together all the goals of Berea Kids Eat, which is not just about reducing food insecurity but also increasing healthy food access by building food skills at the household level for the future,” said Martina Leforce, coordinator of Berea Kids Eat.

Related: Berea College program serves thousands of free nutritious meals three days a week to children in need

Since its launch in 2019, Healthier Kids for Our Future has awarded more than $8 million in grants to nonprofit organizations working to reduce childhood hunger and improve youth mental health throughout the county. This program furthers Cigna’s commitment to addressing social determinants of health and eliminating barriers to care for all communities as part of its Building Equity and Equality Program.

Building on the strong foundation of existing community partnerships and strengths of local agencies, Berea Kids Eat has utilized funding from the Cigna Foundation to address food insecurity through four initiatives:

  • increasing healthy meal access to youth ages 18 and under
  • building household and community food resiliency
  • collecting and sharing best practices with partners
  • formalizing a community network committed to building local food security

Cherry tomatoes are bagged for distribution to families.

Since 2016, Berea Kids Eat has partnered with Berea Community School District to identify accessible summer meal sites in low-income neighborhoods. While BKE has established a mobile meals route to serve fresh meals directly in neighborhoods during the summer, these current and potential meal sites lack greenspace, weather protection, seating and handwashing facilities needed to effectively administer programming services.

Thanks to the support from Cigna, Berea Kids Eat and Berea Independent Schools have converted a retired school bus into the Berea Wellness Bus. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Berea Wellness Bus has been used weekly to transfer food directly from local vendors to area youth via meals and fresh food kits. When pandemic conditions allow, the bus visits low-income neighborhoods daily, to meet families where they are and serve fresh meals in a comfortable and engaging setting to youth ages 18 and under.

Moving forward, in partnership with Berea Community Schools, the bus will also serve as a distribution point for fresh produce, provide summer learning opportunities, serve as a mobile health screening clinic and offer enrichment programs to youth in low-income neighborhoods.

Related: Berry College partners with homeless shelter to train urban farmers

Berea Kids Eat aims to build long-term food resiliency with area youth through hands-on gardening, culinary experiences, and nutrition education. But many families experience barriers to opportunity access, including lack of available space or resources to grow food; limited knowledge or skills relating to culinary and garden practices; and time restrictions. To increase access, Berea Kids Eat is focusing on improving and expanding public gardens located at summer and afterschool meal locations such as the public library, public school and a local community garden situated in a low-income housing tract.

Funds will be used to construct culinary and pollinator demonstration gardens that incorporate youth programming with summer and afterschool meals. The pollination project is a part of the John Paul Mitchell Systems’ Peace, Love, and Butterflies Outdoor Education Center located at Glades Community Garden in Berea, Ky. Public education garden sites will serve as demonstration sites and venues for Berea Kids Eat to host best practices workshops designed for community outreach volunteers and institutional staff.

“We’re choosing to look at water and trees because we’re talking about long-term generational ecosystems… and also these perennial projects that are benefiting multiple generations and investing in projects that will have long-term benefits to the community,” Leforce said.

Berea Kids Eat packs garden kits for distribution to families facing food insecurity.

Funds will be used to support youth garden entrepreneurship at the local farmers market, provide garden-to-table cooking classes with summer meal service and after-school programming, and provide recipe cards with supplemental produce distributed with Weekend Backpack meals. These endeavors will allow kids to participate in hands-on activities that connect personal health and well-being with a fundamental understanding of nutrition and interest in healthy habits.

Berea Kids Eat will also use funds to provide hands-on garden and culinary workshops for partners committed to incorporating food and environmental education with classroom and out-of-school learning.

“The Healthier Kids for Our Future grant has allowed for us to look beyond just immediate hunger relief and incorporate nutrition programming into our meal service so that we’re not just looking at the immediate need, but also addressing future food skills with families,” Leforce said. “It’s not only provided us with an opportunity to dig a little bit deeper with the families we’re working with, but also to build a vision for a healthier Berea moving forward.”

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Berea College website.

Alabama, Auburn Students Join Forces To Help Food-Insecure Families

Two Sullivan Foundation partner schools—the University of Alabama (UA) and Auburn University—might be cross-state rivals, but they have teamed up to help combat food insecurity through the End Child Hunger in Alabama County Food Guide Project, a program that connects Alabama families in crisis with food resources in their communities.

UA’s School of Social Work is partnering with Auburn University’s Hunger Solutions Institute, (HSI), which launched the program recently, to raise awareness of important food resources around the state.

End Child Hunger in Alabama (ECHA) is a network of key state leaders, representing both public and private sectors, working together to end child hunger in the state. The County Food Guide Project is an extension of their mission, providing a centralized source of information to families experiencing food insecurity.

Related: Elon Musk’s brother wants to build “super farm” to address food insecurity

“After the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, our staff observed that, while many organizations were addressing food insecurity, there wasn’t a place that made families aware of the food resources available in their local communities,” said Malerie Goodman, a graduate research assistant with HSI.

So, with the help of organizations like Share Meals and the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College, a grant from AirTable, and the assistance of volunteers and strategic community partnerships, HSI developed the County Food Guide, an interactive map of Alabama counties, where users can click on a county for a list of food resources available in that area.

UA social work students, along with Auburn students, have been working as interns since the fall to populate the online database—which is housed on the ECHA website—with accurate and up-to-date information on food availability throughout Alabama.

(Photo by Vitolda Klein of Unsplash)

“I believe that the work we are doing is making a huge difference, providing people with information they may not be aware of,” said Talladega, Alabama, native Asia Suttle, a UA student in the Master of Social Work program and one of the interns (called county ambassadors).

“I’m excited to be a part of this initiative because I get to work with resources that will ensure children and their families have the opportunity to be fed,” added intern Kimberly Mitchell, a Mechanicsville, Virginia, native who is also in UA’s Master of Social Work program.

Related: This “DoGoodr” uses technology to feed the hungry and reduce food waste

The interns work remotely to reach out to grocery stores and other food facilities throughout Alabama, then document how the public can access food, who is eligible to receive services and when the resources are available.

“Thousands of website visitors have been able to locate food resources in their county since last June, thanks to the County Food Guide Project,” Goodman said. “HSI plans to continue maintenance of this resource in the foreseeable future and after the COVID-19 public health crisis ends, to ensure that individuals throughout our state can find food when they need it.”

HSI is currently working to expand accessibility to the County Food Guide Project with an automated text messaging and call-in system, allowing individuals without internet service, especially those in rural areas, to access the information.

For more information and to use the interactive resource map, visit the ECHA County Food Guide Project website.

This story has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of Alabama website.

Berea College Program Serves Thousands of Free Nutritious Meals Three Days a Week to Children in Need

A program operated by Sullivan Foundation partner school Berea College serves thousands of free meals to children in need every day, a much-needed service in the Berea, Ky. area where more than 30 percent of kids live in households below the poverty level.

Berea College and nonprofit Grow Appalachia partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Education to launch the Berea Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) in 2016. The program worked with Berea College Sodexo Dining Services to prepare and serve free breakfasts and lunches to youth age 18 and under during the summer months while school was out.

Related: President’s executive order will provide more federal aid for anti-hunger nonprofits

In 2018, Berea SFSP expanded to become Berea Kids Eat, a nutrition initiative that identifies and closes gaps that contribute to local food insecurity. The program became even more important when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Kentucky in March 2020 and public schools closed down. Children who had relied on the USDA’s school lunch program were suddenly going without essential meals, so BKE stepped in to fill the gap.

The program has proven vital since more than 80 percent of children enrolled in the Berea Community Schools system rely on free school breakfasts and lunches every day.

According to a story posted on LEX18.com, the program serves free meals—breakfast and lunch—every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and draws long lines of cars. The meals are provided by local restaurants and farmers and always include a protein, a vegetable, a fruit, a grain and milk.

“Basically, what we’re doing is, we are offering what would have been the equivalent of school lunch, just during the pandemic,” Berea Kids Eat Coordinator Martina Leforce told LEX18 in December. “We serve about 4,000 meals a day.”

The program, which has federal funding, doesn’t just benefit families and children facing food insecurity issues. It has pumped an estimated $700,000 back into the local economy because restaurants that have been struggling to stay afloat in the pandemic are reimbursed for the meals they prepare.

Related: University of Virginia pediatric team works to bring fresh, healthy foods to families in need 

Growers in the Berea area also benefit from the program, which uses local pork, chicken, eggs and other meats as well as various types of produce.

Martina Leforce

“It started off with me calling [local restaurants] and being, like, ‘This might be out of left field, but would you be able to deliver us 2,000 subs a day?’” Leforce said. “Every owner responded, and they were excited not just because it helps their businesses from having to close their doors, but they’re also able to help feed kids in the community.”

“Preparing food for Berea Kids Eat and Grow Appalachia has not only been a rewarding project, it has allowed us to purchase lots of meat and produce from local growers,” Katie Startzman, owner of a local eatery called Native Bagel, told WTVQ. “We have created a new position to assist with the production, which means we have brought another well-paying, high-quality service industry job to Berea. We are so grateful for the weekly orders as they have greatly insulated us from the COVID-related sharp downturn in our sales in what should be our busiest season. It truly feels like a win-win-win, and it is such a pleasure to work with an organization that has such a deep commitment to our local economy.”

WTVQ reported that, as of early December, Berea Kids Eat had served more than 312,880 meals to families in the area. “Food is a basic right and need for all the kids in our community,” LeForce told WTVQ. “That was true before the pandemic, during it, and it will be true after it. It’s all for families.”

President’s Executive Order Will Provide More Federal Aid for Anti-Hunger Nonprofits

Nonprofits and restaurants that work together to combat food insecurity got a boost recently from a new executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The order directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide more funds to support these partnerships, a move that will benefit both anti-hunger nonprofit groups and restaurants that have been struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Previously, FEMA has funded federally approved restaurant/nonprofit partnerships at a level of 75 percent, offsetting a large chunk of costs for free meal services offered to people in need. Biden’s order raises FEMA’s share of funds to 100 percent. That means the free meals provided by restaurants will be fully reimbursable, benefiting both for-profit foodservice businesses and nonprofit organizations like food banks, pantries and soup kitchens.

Related: Berry College partners with homeless shelters to train urban farmers

The executive order will make it easier for states and local governments to help nonprofits make more emergency food deliveries and feed more food-insecure children during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign website.

this photo shows two adorable little black girls enjoying a free meal from No Kid Hungry

Children enjoy a nutritious free meal provided by No Kid Hungry.

Biden signed the order after a bipartisan group in Congress introduced the FEED (FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries) Act, which is backed by Chef José Andrés and the global nonprofit World Central Kitchen. But since even bipartisan bills can take months to earn congressional approval, the Biden administration opted to speed things up, said Monica Gonzales, director of federal advocacy for No Kid Hungry, in a statement on the nonprofit’s website.

“The executive order means we don’t have to worry about whether or not the bill is going to languish in legislative limbo,” Gonzales said. “This measure brings forward every resource the government has to address this national hunger crisis and opens the door to innovative ways in which we can feed children.”

It can also save jobs in the restaurant industry, which has been crippled by the pandemic. Restaurants shed 2.5 million jobs in 2020 as shelter-at-home orders went into effect and many state and city governments shut down or limited dine-in service to stem the spread of the coronavirus. These job losses have exacerbated the food insecurity crisis.

Related: Canadian study suggests stereotypes about homeless people are wrong

World Central Kitchen works with restaurants to help feed underserved communities nationwide through its program, Restaurants for the People. The program reimburses restaurants for producing meals that get distributed to local people in need.

“The real key here is that every dollar that goes back into these restaurants ends up paying for staff, paying for the food coming from suppliers,” said Central World Kitchen CEO Nate Mook. “It keeps that economic engine going so that the business can keep running and [restaurant workers] can keep buying food so they don’t become food-insecure themselves.”

No Kid Hungry volunteers pack free meals for people facing food insecurity.

Douglass Williams, chef and owner of MIDA Restaurant in Boston, said the World Central Kitchen program helped his business at a difficult time during the pandemic last year. “We had to close down for about a month and a half,” he said. “Then this opportunity came along. It was a scary time, and everyone was just spinning.’”

Thanks to creating meals for the hungry through MIDA’s collaboration with World Central Kitchen, his staff was busy in the kitchen once more, Williams said. “Front-of-the-house people were cooking in the back and chopping vegetables and grabbing knives. It was a lovely, crazy and exciting time because everybody just wants to work, and we were also helping our own community,” he said.

Biden’s executive order will immediately free up additional government funds for tackling food insecurity, but state and local leaders have an important role to play, Gonzales noted. “It will be incumbent upon local agencies, cities, counties, governors [and] state agencies to work together with nonprofits and others to get those plans in front of FEMA and get them approved immediately.”