Starkville Parks to host summer food program

Staff Writer

The Starkville Parks and Recreation Department will work in conjunction with Southern Foundation Inc. to bring meals to children throughout the city.

The department received a $35,000 grant through the National Recreation and Park Association for the Walmart Foundation Healthy Out-of-School Time Meals Program.

During the last Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting, the board approved an agreement of understanding between the city and the Southern Foundation Inc. to operate the Healthy Out-of-School Time Meals Program.

Starting June 1, meals will be served at the Sportsplex from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The only day meals will not be served is on July 4.

Interim Parks and Recreation Director Gerry Logan said several months ago the department was notified about the opportunity to apply for the NRPA and Walmart foundation the grant.

Usually, the grant is awarded to different communities across the nation, but this year Logan said the organization added a "separate cohort" in the mix of distributed funds.

"They targeted three states Mississippi, Kansas and Colorado, that they designated as rural," Logan said. "They earmarked a certain amount of grant dollars to go just to those three states and rural communities within those states."

When word came down there were no matching funds for the grant, Logan said the department applied for the grant. He said it would work well with Southern Foundation who already does summer feeding programs in Starkville.

Logan said last summer there were a couple of conflicts where Southern Foundation would go to a pavilion at a park to give away meals, but it would be rented out.

To become more involved, Logan said he wanted the department to provide indoor space for the meals to be provided for both convenience and to avoid being out in the heat, which can be unbearable in the summer.

"With this feeding program, you have kids coming from any number of places across town and they were worried they had kids walking a mile or more to get these feeding sights," Logan said. "At least in this case, we were able to offer an indoor location."

Associated with the program, Logan said the Sportsplex will provide the area for a meal, but also areas for children to play because there is a focus on fitness and healthy eating with the grant.
For the grant specifically, Southern Foundation will operate the feeding program. Parks and Recreation will provide both the space and the transportation.

"Transportation is a very big part of what we want to do with this grant and with the grant funds," Logan said. "We've been working with (the SMART Bus) on establishing times and drop off, pick up locations."

Logan said he is currently working to finalize the details for the transportation. He said this will help alleviate the problem of people walking to the facility.

Although they will not be able to pick up everyone, the transportation will be able to help bring food to people who need it.

The potential stops are one to two stops on the north side of town in the J.L. King Memorial Park and Reed Road area.

There are also plans for one to two stops on South Louisville Street. These areas were identified by the Southern Foundation.

Logan said for this first year, he would like to make it as simple as possible, then learn and adjust to what works and what doesn't.

Southern Foundation and the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District also host feeding sites around town.

"These two will definitely compliment each other, not compete," Logan said.

Logan said he is ecstatic having the opportunity to have the department help with the summer meals program because it's their obligation to promote healthy eating and fitness for the youth in this community.

"To us it was super simple thing, but to them it was life changing," Logan said.

Logan said the word "belief" is one he and his department have been standing by while working to implement this program.

He said the Southern Foundation didn't have enough people around that believed in the program and believed in the difference it could make for the community.

"Having a child myself, I can't imagine kids that go home hungry," Logan said. " It is a problem across the nation."

The $35,000 will mostly cover transportation costs and the remaining funds will go toward staffing, promotion and supplies. The grant money does not purchase any of the food, but it is supported in a different way.

Logan said their goal is to hopefully serve 2,500 children this summer. He said they won't be able to help everyone, but if they feed more people than they did yesterday, it'll be a win for the program.

"It's one of those things that tugs at the heart strings," Logan said. "It's sobering to realize that there's kids in Oktibbeha County that don't get fed and have to go hungry for days at a time, that's the type of area we're trying to deal with and trying to solve."

Since this will be the first year the program is funded through this grant, and the department is hosting it, he hopes to establish an even stronger program as time progresses.

"If we just start somewhere I can only imagine what type of benefit we'll be able to provide,"Logan said.