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Missouri Makes Summer Meals Work!

Rowe with kids and the Power Panther at the PowerHouse Ministries site in Marshall, MO.

Rowe with kids and the Power Panther at the PowerHouse Ministries site in Marshall, MO.

This spring I had the opportunity to visit several summer feeding sites to witness the efforts of local organizations and states agencies so instrumental in the success of USDA’s Summer Food Service Program.  I had the chance to join our essential partners during summer meals kick-off events throughout the state of Missouri.  It was especially gratifying to meet so many members of highly-engaged communities and the children and teens that benefit from their support.

During my May visit, I was honored to participate in a roundtable discussion at the St. Louis Area Food Bank while a new partnership was being forged.  The lively conversation about successes and challenges of feeding kids nutritious summer meals included representatives from local, state and federal organizations.  St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and some of his staff attended to voice the city’s support of the summer feeding programs and offer ideas for feeding site activities, including creating butterfly gardens.

A new solution arose when the St. Louis Boys and Girls Clubs spoke up about their all-day programs.  The B&GCs serve summer lunches, but the staff was concerned about the kids who are there all day, and often get hungry later in the afternoon.

“We can help with that,” a Cooperative Extension representative piped up, “We’ll come do a cooking demonstration or a taste test for the kids.”  Every afternoon, for all the sites, all summer?  You bet. It’s great that the resources to meet a challenge are so easily found in the same community where the challenge exists!

While in town, I met St. Louis American editor Chris King. I gushed about the accomplishments and vision of St. Louis residents, those committed to making sure the city’s kids are nourished and able to thrive. Since then, the paper has continued to draw attention to the program and the benefits it provides to the kids and families of this great city.

During the first week of June I returned to Missouri to celebrate their accomplishments and to see some of the partnerships that local groups had established.  I enjoyed speaking with folks at KSHB-TV about how caring Missouri leaders are stepping up to make sure children get nutritious meals when school is out of session.

When I got to Peyton Park in Marshall, Missouri, for a meal with kids at the program kick-off, I was blown away.  The Power House Ministries folks had galvanized local companies, USDA Rural Development, their own parishioners and the community to donate, serve and volunteer. Mayor Mark Gooden was on hand to demonstrate his support for strong childhood nutrition. And thanks to the Midwest Dairy Council and Fuel Up to Play 60, Kansas City Chiefs alumnus Eddie Kennison was on hand to discuss how good nutrition and physical activity contribute to both athletic and academic success.

The next day, after talking with a St. Louis reporter about the importance of children’s nutrition over the summer, I was honored to participate in a summer meals program kick-off in nearby Ferguson, Missouri. There I was joined by Mayor James Knowles III, St. Louis Rams alumnus Aeneas Williams, school district staff, and state education staff for lunch with students.  After the meal, Aeneas ran with the kids around the gym while I spoke with local reporters and got the recipe for the delicious chicken the chef had prepared for us.  Then we took turns with The Smoothie Bike – spinning on the bike powered the blender to whip fruit, ice and spinach into a cool, refreshing smoothie that the kids were downing faster than they could spin up.

The visits to Missouri really charged me up. It was important to see how everyone’s efforts – from the state agencies recruiting more sponsors to the parents making sure their kids get to the sites –have a huge impact on kids.  And that makes all the work truly worthwhile.

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