May 9, 2018 – Feed Me

I joined the board of Community Kitchen of Monroe Country last year because it’s incredibly important to me that we feed people. Not just feed people, but feed them well, often, and without judgment. In my short time on this big spinning chunk of space dust, it has become clear to me that food and nutrition are a basic human right. Likewise, for us to keep all the people fed and healthy and productive, we need to fight the stigma around accepting food assistance. It’s hard work, but valuable work. Community Kitchen exemplifies this spirit in every way, every day.

I know this struggle. For whatever reason, the fact that I was a “Free Lunch Kid” surprises a lot of people. Probably because I’m so tall, and broad, and don’t look like I’ve missed a meal in my life. Like pretty much everyone, I’ve got a lot more going on below the surface than you can see.

It didn’t seem odd at the time. Sure, we got government cheese, but it was the 1970’s — a lot of people got government cheese. Things were hard all over. To my Mom’s credit, we never skipped meals. Of course, not all food is equal. Yes, we had food — but it was total crap, like canned soup and over-processed junk. And lots of soda. Hell or high water, we always had soda.

Fresh fruit and vegetables were few and far between. Mom made spinach about once a year, “for the vitamins.” I remember the “schlock” sound it made when the blackish-green, gelatinous goo finally slipped free from the can. I also remember hating it with all my heart.

Naturally, we were a clean-your-plate kind of household. Nothing was thrown out. Which is how I learned to over-eat. Seemed like I was always hungry and would finish off whatever was left. In hindsight, hunger means I wasn’t getting good nutrition. Lots of calories, yes, but not the vitamins or minerals or fiber or protein. It’s not all that surprising I was never satisfied.

My favorite “meal” growing up, the one I ate the most, was Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, reconstituted with water, and served with too many saltines crumbled into it. That was my go-to and I really enjoyed it. Like many things, I learned to hate it sometime in junior high. Several of my friends laughed in my face, “Cream of Mushroom soup? It’s an ingredient, not a meal! Hahahaha!” Now it symbolizes everything wrong with my relationship with food. There’s a can of cream of mushroom soup in our kitchen cupboard right now. It’s been there for three years, covered in dust and mocking me.

As a supposedly “well-adjusted” adult, these days I know that peer pressure is bad and celebrating our differences is healthy. But at age thirteen, it’s hard to not see yourself as others label you. They called me a “Free Lunch Kid,” so that’s what I was. I didn’t like the teasing but was grateful for the food. I grow more grateful the more I learn how critical nutrition is to a child’s development.

The science is crystal clear that kids perform better in school when they get nutritious food (How Diet and Nutrition Impact a Child’s Learning Ability; Not surprisingly, education has been a huge part of how I’ve tried to improve my situation. Others aren’t as lucky. Hungry kids don’t do as well in school, which limits their earning potential and their food security as adults, as well as shortening lifespans and lowering quality of life. And then, because they don’t have the resources or knowledge, they end up passing it all on to their kids, and it starts all over again. The cycle of poverty is insidious, and destructive, and just not fair.

I see that cycle first hand, every day. The ugly reality is that food insecurity has never left me, and never will. I have very deep-seated issues with food. I’ve battled obesity since I was nine years old, and now I’m showing early signs of diabetes. I have acute obstructive sleep apnea, a condition heavily tied to obesity. My apnea is severe enough that I have to wear a mask and pressurized air hose just to sleep. I have ankle, knee, hip, and lower back problems because of my weight. And yet, even with all this — I still can’t seem to stop over-eating.

I don’t usually tell people about this, but I hoard food to the point of it causing tension in our household. My family is supportive and they love me, but our fridge is overflowing with food right now. We have a deep freeze with 18.5 cubic feet of more food. I can’t and don’t want to stop buying food. It’s irrationally important to me that my kids have all the food they ever want. And not just my kids. Feeding people is my religion. It’s as much a part of my fabric as cotton is part of the fake tuxedo t-shirt I’m wearing. Feeding people is why I exist.

The happy news is that now I get to be the father who teaches his kids about nutrition and reasonable portion sizes. And I’m the dad that loves to cook fresh veggies. I don’t even care if they are smothered in sauce, just as long as the kids eat them. My kids love steamed broccoli, roasted brussels sprouts, bacon-fried kale, pickled beets, and of course celery with peanut butter. My youngest daughter loves dipping raw “baby” carrots in ranch. We got a note sent home once because the teacher thought my oldest daughter was lying that her favorite food was creamed spinach. For my kids, this is normal, and my heart sings with the hope that they don’t inherit my bad habits. Well, at least not too many of them.

I encourage you to find ways to feed people. We each find our own ways, and yours will surely be different than mine. Reach out to your neighbors, friends, and family to see if they might appreciate a meal or a bag of groceries. Donating your time, food, or money to an established food organization like Community Kitchen is an easy and effective way to make a difference. Most importantly, just let people know you care and you want them to be happy, healthy, and fed.

Well, it’s time for me to go prepare a healthy meal for my family, and hopefully use up some of the embarrassing amount of food in the kitchen. I’ll make sure that we all have some protein, some fruit and veggies, some whole grains and carbs. Hey, maybe I’ll take down that can of mushroom soup and use it in a casserole. Maybe. Or, maybe not. Baby steps. – Troy Maynard

Serving the Kitchen through a Child’s Eyes

Community Kitchen of Monroe County does something truly unique in the nonprofit world. By bringing our community together in order to provide the joy of a full belly – especially when food security is so uncertain for many folks these days – CK inspires a lifetime of dedication to better the world, one meal at a time. The following is written by a young volunteer who believes all people benefit when one has a full belly.

“When I volunteer, I feel nice on the inside. Hopefully, I just made someone’s day by serving them.  I volunteer at C.K. because I don’t think that people of any age should have an empty stomach and not have the comfort of someone to talk to. Helping other people reminds me that there is still light  in the world.

Community Kitchen is important because you need food to survive; if you don’t have food, you starve; if you starve, you die. That’s how it is, so we need share what we have and feed the poor and the homeless because they are the real ones that need our help because food cost money and they don’t have a lot of money.

At Community Kitchen, I help with the set-up of the service line, work the service line (it’s the best place to get to know all the people!) and clean-up after service is over. My favorite part of volunteering is seeing the joy on someone’s face when they see what’s for dinner!

By helping others with providing a safe and regular environment where they can get a hot and nutritious meal, sit down and enjoy the moment, Community Kitchen is making the world a better place.”

May we all strive to make the world a better place, one meal at a time.

February 23, 2018 – This is us!

The very first meals were served at the Community Kitchen (CK) of Monroe County in March of 1983. Women from several Bloomington churches were instrumental in the organization of the Community Kitchen. Their sentiment was simple: Feed hungry people,no questions asked. This policy still stands today.

CK has grown from a small organization with one part-time employee serving meals three days a week to one with full and part time employees and volunteers serving meals six days a week.

CK has also grown the number of services it offers. CK has been very proactive in addressing the needs of at-risk children in the community. Research shows that breakfast is probably the most important meal of the day and that children who receive breakfast at school perform much better. In order to fill the gap between school years, CK started a nutritious summer breakfast program in 1994. Brown bag breakfasts are distributed ice-cream truck style, in various low income housing areas. Meals are also served on holidays.

In addition to meals, CK offers information and referral services so that patrons are aware of other programs available for their support. CK responds to the long and short term needs of its patrons. This type of social support is often just as important as the meals.

Here are CK’s basic operating principles:

-Anyone who needs a meal can eat.

-The privacy of all patrons are protected.

-Provide patrons from all walks of life with excellence.

-Meals are nutritious and there are vegetarian options.

-The majority of the food is received through the Hoosier Hills Food Bank or donated by our generous community. Supplies are supplemented by retail food purchases.

The CK continues to expand to serve the community. As of 2017, CK serves 306,628 meals and snacks, representing a 3.1% percent increase over 2016.

The 11th annual Chefs’ Challenge celebrated Lake Hubbard as the champion. This benefit, along with the four delicious brunches that are crafted by local chefs, make up the biggest fundraisers for CK programs.

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