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Community Kitchen gives kids meals outside of school to address food insecurity


A Backpack Buddies backpack and food sit on a table Aug. 20 in Lucky’s Market. Children enrolled in the Backpack Buddies program are given enough food to make five meals. Mel Fronczek

In Tim Clougher’s office, a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. is taped to a dry erase board. It reads, “Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service.”

Clougher is the assistant director at Community Kitchen of Monroe County.

Community Kitchen has been running the Backpack Buddies program to supply low-income students’ families with meals over the weekend to fill the out-of-school gap for about 10 years. At the end of every week, students enrolled in the program take home five family-sized meals’ worth of nutritious and local products with recipes included.

“We recognized that one of the ways to reduce the families struggling with hunger issues was to help break that cycle of poverty,” Clougher said. “That happens with the kids.”

Students can qualify for free or reduced meals at school, but outside of school, their access to nutritious food can be limited. Clougher said Backpack Buddies helps kids get good food and be active in contributing to their families.

“It takes that burden away from families to try to provide those items,” Clougher said.

In 2018, Community Kitchen sent more than 400 bags per week home with students, up about 25% from the previous year. The students came from 21 different schools, Clougher said.

Clougher said it’s a collaboration to reduce hunger. Not only does Community Kitchen work with school systems for the Backpack Buddies program, but they also partner with various local businesses that supply volunteers or food.

Lucky’s Market held an Impact Day benefiting the kitchen on Tuesday, so 10% of sales from that day will go to Community Kitchen. Last year’s Impact Day for Community Kitchen made over $2,000, according to an email from Krista Harden, assistant store director at the Bloomington Lucky’s Market.

The majority of support for Community Kitchen, though, comes from individuals. Clougher said people can support Community Kitchen by donating food, volunteering with the organization’s various programs and raising awareness about food insecurity.

Clougher said getting proper nutrition is often about logistics. 

He said if walking or taking public transportation to a grocery store is too difficult, many people resort to gas stations or convenience stores, which sell unhealthy food for high prices.

Delena Gill, a Community Kitchen volunteer, grew up in Monroe County with a neglectful mother and eight siblings. Before she got put into foster care, she said her family spent time being homeless and had to rely on others for food.

When she was 3 or 4 years old, Gill remembers looking for food around the house and only finding muffin mix. She and her sister mixed it with water for their meal.

When she was in elementary school, Gill’s mother woke up late and sent her to her school field trip to the zoo without a lunch.

“I was so embarrassed that I didn’t have anything to eat,” Gill said. “I remember feeling like it shouldn’t be this way.”

A few of her classmates gave her some of their food, and Gill said receiving that kindness still resonates with her.

She said she would have felt more secure if there had been a program like Backpack Buddies when she was a child.

“Everybody should have access to food,” Gill said. “And I have the ability to help make that happen.”

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