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Non-profit seeks to battle hunger year-round

At least one Kansas City metro area nonprofit is making its mission to raise awareness of food insecurity issues not just on Thanksgiving, but all year long.

Formerly known as Episcopal Community Services, the organization now known as Nourish KC specializes in a host of food-related programs and enjoys relationships with 200 different partners throughout the region. Its flagship program, the Kansas City Community Kitchen, feeds up to 350 people each day; founded 35 years ago, the kitchen has operated at its current location at 750 Paseo since 2010.

“Hunger isn’t just a holiday issue, and we firmly believe we need to get it away from (being viewed) as a holiday issue,” says Beau Heyen, president and CEO of Nourish KC. “Every day for us should be something special. When we are providing food for people that needs to be consistent. I love that people pour their hearts out in November and December, but we need you year-round.”

Hunger insecurity can plague people in any community, of any race, and from any background, Heyen says. Some might be surprised at how widespread the problem is in the metro area.

“It is surprising where food insecurity actually lives,” Heyen says. It’s not just in Hickman-Mills or downtown. It’s prevalent throughout our entire region. In fact, there are as many people who are food insecure in Johnson County than there are in Wyandotte County.”

According to the Harvesters Community Food Network, one in every seven people in the organization’s 26-county service area are food insecure. That’s one in every seven people, according to Heyen, who can’t concentrate on their day-to-day lives due to hunger.

“When we’re in a scarcity mindset, we can only focus on things we don’t have,” he explains. “We are so focused on those things that we’re missing that we can’t think of anything else. You can’t think about being a good neighbor, or going to work, or being a good student (due to hunger).”

Nourish KC’s recent rebranding efforts have drawn the attention of city officials, including Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who was in attendance at the organization’s annual fundraising gala in mid-October. It was at that event that Heyen unveiled the group’s new name, taking note that while ECS’ name may have changed, its mission to feed the hungry all year long remains the same. Victoria Cherrie, director of development for the organization, says Nourish KC was able to show off its new identity only a few weeks later, when an area food summit earlier this month drew participants from around the region to discuss solutions to the issue of food insecurity.

“We’ve been lucky to position ourselves to become thought leaders to make a real, integrated, collaborative food system,” Heyen says.

Some organizations that serve a predominantly Hispanic population, such as El Centro Inc. (650 Minnesota Ave., Kansas City, Ks.), redirect clients to Catholic Charities or the Salvation Army. Guadalupe Centers’ Family Support Program (1512 Van Brunt, Kansas City, Mo.) offers a food pantry that is open during its regular business hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, according to organization representatives.

The Kansas City Community Kitchen is open for lunch every weekday of the year, including holidays, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The kitchen also needs volunteers to help greet, serve and clean up after guests. To volunteer or for more information, call (816) 561-8920 or visit
www.nourishkc.org.