More than 200,000 Missouri kids are facing food insecurity, according to the Missouri Kids Count 2021 Data Book.
Today is the last day of a summer nutrition program in Cole and Osage counties, which has provided weekly meal ingredients, a gift certificate, and even free books to hundreds of children in the area.
Elizabeth Anderson, Osage County engagement specialist in community economic development for the University of Missouri Extension, said it was unique. In addition to providing the food itself, they had recipes for kids to try on their own.
“I tried to seek out recipes that they wouldn’t need an adult to help them with,” Anderson explained. “If they could really do it from start to finish all by themselves and share it with their siblings or their friends or their family members.”
The Missouri No Kid Hungry program partnered with the University of Missouri Extension nutrition program staff and the Missouri River Regional Library. They also decided to use the library’s bookmobile, a 40-foot-long bus with reading nooks inside, so that kids who participate in the program can choose a book from the free book cart.
Claudia Cook, director of the Missouri River Regional Library, added it is a good skill to learn what it takes to meal plan, cook and even shop for food if kids want to use the gift certificate to supplement the ingredients included in the package. She added the library is particularly excited the program has also been able to support literacy.
“The kids are like, ‘Yeah, let’s go get that free book,’ and running off towards the bookmobile to check out the free book cart,” Cook observed. “That was just the big thing for me, is to see them as excited about that.”
Food insecurity had been declining prior to the pandemic. In Cole County, it went from nearly 20% in 2015 to just about 12% in 2019, and from more than 16% down to about 12% in Osage County.
The partnership, also supported by the Missouri Family and Community Trust, is one of many efforts to keep that progress going.