After breaking ground on Centennial Farm earlier this month, Kids’ Food Basket, a local nonprofit focusing on attacking childhood hunger, aims to expand its reach across the community through building a new production and education facility. Including 10 acres of farmland, this new space, located at 1919 Leonard Street NE, allows Kids’ Food Basket to create more opportunities for civic engagement and educational programming.
As the organization transitions into its future home, Bridget Clark Whitney, Kids’ Food Basket’s founding CEO, intends to increase its attention and focus on providing nourishing meals to children in need, engaging the community through volunteerism, cultivating healthy produce through its growing program, and empowering children within its educational components.
“Every child has the right to good food,” Clark Whitney said. “We believe that when kids are well-nourished, they can be the best versions of themselves in school and in life.”
Not only are children more likely to perform better on tests in the classroom, but according to Clark Whitney, when children are provided access to healthy food on a consistent basis, there is less truancy, fewer sicknesses and less behavioral issues in schools.
“We had one school, in particular, where, in the very first year that we were able to take them off the waiting list, they had an 86 percent decrease in suspensions. The reason is that when kids have that basic need (met), their toxic stress is significantly decreased,” Clark Whitney said.
Though Kids’ Food Basket has more than 240 volunteers serving over 8,000 children a day between its Kent County, Muskegon and Holland locations, “that’s actually only 19 percent of the need between those three counties,” Clark Whitney said.
According to Clark Whitney, 27,000 children in Kent County face food insecurity. Kids’ Food Basket has also seen more and more need for meals in its Muskegon and Holland locations.
Clark Whitney said 12,000 kids in Muskegon and 8,500 children in Holland are also struggling with food insecurity every day. Between these three counties, there are 30 schools on the organization’s waiting list.
Since childhood hunger remains a prevalent issue in West Michigan, Clark Whitney feels it is Kids’ Food Basket’s duty to use this new building to increase the number of children that it serves, which is why Kids’ Food Basket aims to serve up to 15,000 meals a day in Kent County once its production facility is up and running. “We believe that it’s irresponsible not to grow,” said Clark Whitney.
Though the goal is to have the facility finished by the summer and to be fully operational next fall, Kids’ Food Basket began farming four of its 10 acres this past summer. Over 11,000 pounds of fresh produce was harvested, and more than 1,000 volunteers helped farm this land, 40 percent of which were children.
Having these children participate in the growing process was beneficial not only because it provided them with lifelong knowledge and skills about where food comes from and why it is important to eat nutritious food, but as a result, these children also had a greater interest in eating the fresh produce. “Kids have much more propensity to eat healthy food when they are a part of the actual growing of it,” Clark Whitney said.
To further spark an interest in healthy eating, Kids’ Food Basket has been visiting classrooms and offering students taste tests of a variety of different vegetables. The feedback from the students will help Kids’ Food Basket determine what it plants on the farm, giving children the power to choose. “They get to be a part of the entire process, which is not just educational, but it’s extraordinarily empowering,” Clark Whitney said.
After these classroom taste tests, Kids’ Food Basket will use the information to create a curriculum for its educational programming. Once the facility is in operation, Kids’ Food Basket hopes to implement an assortment of classes, programs and field trips that will allow children to visit the farm and learn firsthand how to plant, grow and harvest fresh produce.
To fund the building and construction of this new property, Kids’ Food Basket started the Feeding Our Future Campaign. With $7 million currently contributed, Kids’ Food Basket is seeking to raise the last $500,000 of its goal.
This campaign will enable Kids’ Food Basket to reduce its school waiting lists, allowing for a greater number of children to receive sack supper meals. Donors will also be given the chance to have their names burned onto the new donor wall made from reclaimed wood at the facility.
“Our community has the power within itself to be able to solve an issue like childhood hunger,” Clark Whitney said. “The more the community rallies around our work, the more kids can have access to good food.”
For more information about the organization and its Feeding Our Future Campaign, visit the Kids’ Food Basket website.
*Photos courtesy of Kids’ Food Basket