BY ADAM KENT-ISAAC
The Community Kitchen of Monroe County, founded in 1983 to combat hunger in Bloomington, is probably best known for its public dining room located at 917 S. Rogers St., where anyone can come and receive a free, nutritious meal, no questions asked. What some may not know is that the Kitchen has also been expanding its reach to distribute food to children in Bloomington’s communities. Case in point: the Summer Breakfast Program.
“In the summer, when school’s out, we try to get nutrition to kids wherever they are,” says Vicki Pierce, executive director of the Kitchen. “We know that kids from low-income areas have a transportation barrier to coming to our facilities—someone would have to drive them here. In the summer, we have volunteers who come early in the morning to package up sack breakfasts.” These all include a grain, a dairy, and a fruit component, and are delivered to ten low-income neighborhoods.
“We stop in a central location—most often, a playground—and kids can come to the van and get a free breakfast. It’s for kids only, not for adults.” Kitchen volunteers visit each of those ten neighborhoods five days a week, from the day school gets out in June until the day before school starts again in August. Last year, they distributed more than 13,500 such breakfasts. “That’s a significant increase for us,” says Pierce, “up over fifteen hundred from the previous summer.” The program also expanded into Ellettsville last year.
Two other programs, Backpack Buddies and Feed Our Future, also target kids. The former provides backpacks of food for kids at six schools to take home on weekends. “We contact the school social workers to find out which kids might need the program, and we deliver the backpacks on Thursday or Friday for them to take home,” Pierce says.
The second program, Feed Our Future, provides sack lunches and healthy snacks to children in afterschool programs at places like Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington and Rhino’s Youth Media Center. “We’re doing over two thousand of those a week,” says Pierce. “All in all, sixty-one percent of the people we’ve served in the past few years have been kids.”
Another service this nonprofit provides for adults and kids is a food take-out facility called Community Kitchen Express at 1100 W. 11th St.
The Community Kitchen will be relocating its main dining room to a larger facility—5,400 square feet versus the current 1,300—at 1515 S. Rogers St. in early August. For more information, including how to volunteer or make a donation, visit monroecommunitykitchen.com.