Food insecurity is a common issue among many patients in the Berea area. So is poor nutrition as availability of fresh produce and heart-healthy options at food pantries is scarce.
Saint Joseph Berea community health advocates Christy Begley and Emilee Hood joined forces in a local partnership with Berea Kids Eat and Berea Independent Schools to help pack approximately 209,000 meals for local children as part of the Berea Summer Food Service Program.
With 30% of area children living below poverty level and as many as one in five children experiencing hunger, the Berea Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks to students as part of the ongoing solution to battle food insecurity and childhood hunger. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to move to a virtual platform in March 2020, the need for meals began earlier than summer break.
“Hunger doesn’t take a break or a vacation,” said Diane Smith, Family Resource Youth Services Center director for Berea Independent Schools. “Being able to help these children eat nutritious meals in the summer and also being able to have contact with the kids in order to continue our relationships means we are helping them grow and develop.”
By volunteering to help pack and distribute meals, Begley and Hood connected with families in the area who may also be in need of other programs offered through grants from Saint Joseph Berea Foundation.
“We treat people physically, but so many people’s needs go deeper than just the cut on their hand or the bellyache or headache they have,” Begley said. “Our goal is to find and treat all underlying needs.”
The meals not only fed students’ hunger, they also aimed to set a habit of eating more healthfully.
“My personal belief is that eating habits start young,” Hood said. “If you are a young child eating terribly, it’s really hard to break that habit when you get older. The summer food program provides nutritious meals to help build better habits.”
Smith said to combat poor nutrition, the program partnered with Grow Appalachia, Berea College Sodexo Dining Services and local farmers to provide fresh produce in every meal.
“It’s been so exciting to see many collaborations being built around the program and its partners and volunteers.” Smith said. “Gaining a newfound love of nutritious food, helping families to become more self-sufficient in raising and harvesting their own food and changing the culture of our diets are all goals we have moving forward.”
With the established partnership, Begley, Hood and Smith hope to continue finding more ways to help each other improve overall health and wellness for people living in Berea and the Saint Joseph Berea service area.
“It fills your heart with joy,” Begley said. “We’re always seeking partnerships and volunteer work so when we volunteer with a partner, we can develop a closer relationship. With that, if there was a problem with a patient who is connected to [Smith’s] school, we are better able to help the family.”
Learn more about the impact the Berea Summer Food Service Program and Berea Independent Schools’ Family Resource and Youth Service Center make on the community.