In Berea, Kentucky, over 85% of school enrolled youth participate in the free National School Breakfast and Lunch Program. During the summer months when school is out, hunger doesn’t take a vacation. With over 30% of area children living in households below the poverty level, as many as 1 in 5 children experience hunger, and even more families are food and housing insecure. While the food budget increases during the summer months, wages don’t increase alongside. Costs of childcare, increased utilities, and summer learning slides come at a great cost to working and middle class families as well.

Recognizing that food insecurity and childhood hunger are problems with solutions, Grow Appalachia and Berea College partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Education to form the Berea Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Launched in 2016, Berea SFSP works with Berea College Sodexo Dining Services to prepare breakfast and lunch to youth (ages 18 and under) during the summer months. Meals are of no cost to participants, and there are no income requirements, registrations, or limits on the numbers of meals that are available.

Since 2016, Berea SFSP has served over 1.6 million meals to youth in neighborhoods, community spaces such as parks, libraries, camps, and sporting events. Partnership efforts have delivered over $5,000,000 in food savings to families, as well as connected sites to enrichment programming opportunities with local library Bookmobiles, on-site gardening programs, arts and craft activities, STEM programming, and more.

In 2017, Grow Appalachia expanded to serve as an afterschool meal sponsor with the USDA At-Risk after school meal program, which provides nutrient-dense snacks to the school system, public library, and privately owned institutions that offer sliding scale memberships to families. Known as the PowerUP! Snack Program, our year round efforts ensure that youth have the fuel they need to keep running between early school lunches and late suppers at home.

As a year round meal sponsor, the Berea Summer Food Service Program expanded to become Berea Kids Eat (BKE) in 2018. As a broad reaching child nutrition initiative, BKE aims to identify and close the gaps that contribute to local food insecurity. Since summer 2018, BKE will partner with God’s Outreach Madison County Food Bank to meet weekend summer meal gaps by delivering Weekend Backpack meals kits to neighborhood meal sites each Friday. Additionally, to identify the root issues of hunger and also childhood obesity, BKE partners with a local community garden to connect summer meals participants to opportunities to grow, taste, and learn about local food.

The Grow Appalachia Berea Kids Eat Program offers a win-win for local families, farmers, camps, and school systems, and helps meet the most basic needs of a community while also supporting the local farm economy and backyard food resiliency efforts.