While school is out for summer, the Letcher County School System still offers free meals to children at school sites, at the farmers market in Whitesburg, and even through the county library’s Bookmobile program.
“There are hungry kids all the time,” said Cora Sturgill, food service director for Letcher County Public Schools.
The Letcher school district has participated in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) for nearly a dozen years, but this is the first summer that a mobile kitchen unit has been set up on Saturday mornings at the Letcher County Farmers Market in downtown Whitesburg.
At a meeting in May hosted by the Community Farm Alliance and East Kentucky Food Systems Collaborative, Valerie Horn, program director of Appal-TREE (Appalachians Together Restoring the Eating Environment), listened to people talking about how summer feeding programs could serve food at local farmers market. Instead of waiting until summer of 2015 to put the idea into place, Horn approached Sturgill about partnering with the school district to provide free, nutritious meals to children this summer. Staff at the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the Community Farm Alliance quickly got on board.
Cooks in the mobile kitchen unit use fresh produce from local growers to prepare breakfast burritos and blueberry smoothies, which are part of a complete meal served to children at the farmers market.
“This is pretty good food that is being given out,” said Horn.
The burritos and smoothies are for sale to adults at $1.50 each.
“I think we are the first in the state if not in the nation to bring the summer feeding program to a farmers market,” said Sturgill.
The cooks who prepare food in the mobile kitchen unit have taken the food handler class at the Letcher County Health Department. The mobile unit has been inspected twice by the health department and all of the food is bought from licensed growers.
“We’re doing everything the right way,” said Sturgill. “It’s been a real learning experience. It has been great feeding kids.”
July 26 is the last Saturday that the mobile kitchen unit will be at the farmers market this summer.
The mobile kitchen site is funded and sponsored by Grow Appalachia hosted by Cowan Community Center, Mountain Shrine Club, Mountain Heritage Festival Committee, Whitesburg Mayor James W. Craft and the Whitesburg City Council.
Another unique way children have received meals through the Summer Food Service Program is in conjunction with the Letcher County Public Library District.
Legina Adams, a bookmobile librarian, has taken books, sack lunches and drinks to parks in Carcassonne, Colson, Cowan, Eolia, Gordon, Hemphill, Isom, Kingscreek and Thornton. She has also delivered meals to children at an apartment complex in Jenkins.
The Letcher school district has had up to 12 feeding sites this summer including churches during Vacation Bible Schools. Martha Jane Potter and Letcher elementary schools were feeding sites during the 21st Century summer camps in June. The Whitesburg Housing Authority community room has also served as a feeding site.
Children can still get hot meals weekdays in the Letcher County Central High School cafeteria from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. and from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
In June, 1,911 breakfasts, 2,752 lunches, 16 afternoon snacks and 1,365 dinners were served to Letcher County children through the Summer Food Service Program.
Sturgill said feeding sites aren’t limited to schools and churches.
“A site can be in your backyard on a picnic table,” said Sturgill. “If a parent wants to be a sponsor and has a bunch of kids who eat at her house, she can participate in the program.”
A site supervisor is responsible for bringing a cooler to pick up food at a food preparation site, hand out meals to children and fill out paperwork.
Meals are free for children ages three to 18. The school district is reimbursed for the food items through the National School Lunch Program.
“We love feeding kids,” said Sturgill. “ We’d feed them all if they would just come to a site.”