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Quarles celebrates hunger heroes in Letcher County; checks status of Kentucky Hunger Initiative program

Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Ryan Quarles visited Community Agricultural Nutritional Enterprises (CANE) Kitchen and the Cowan Community Center in Letcher County on Monday to check in on the status of a Kentucky Hunger Initiative program feeding children with Kentucky-grown fruits and vegetables and to mark the distribution of the 100,000th meal kit in the community.

“Childhood hunger in Kentucky was a huge issue prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and the shuttering of our economy and schools has sadly led to an unprecedented increase in hunger across the board,” said Quarles. “Many heroes have stepped up to the plate to serve our children during this trying time. I am incredibly grateful for the leadership of Valerie Horn and other volunteers around our state for making sure Kentucky kids eat.

“Leaders in Frankfort are currently reopening our economy at a snail-like pace. The longer we keep our economy closed, the more economic damage our state will see and the longer our children and their parents will struggle to get the food they need.”

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Ryan Quarles chats with a summer meal site sponsor worker at CANE Kitchen in Letcher County. (Kentucky Department of Agriculture photo)

CANE Kitchen operates a summer meals site as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Nutrition Service. CANE also participates in the Kentucky-Grown Vegetable Incentive Program (K-VIP), a Kentucky Hunger Initiative program established in 2018 to increase locally grown fruit and vegetables in the Kentucky summer meals program and after-school meals program.

For every dollar spent, K-VIP reimburses 50 cents. Reimbursements can be used to purchase more produce, buy equipment, pay staff wages, help purchase vehicles for mobile meals, and more. The program has been funded by the Kentucky Agriculture Development Board since 2018 and is administered by Feeding Kentucky.

“K-VIP makes it easy to say yes to fresh. Cowan Community Action Group has been a USDA summer feeding site sponsor for four years, and prior to K-VIP we struggled to find funds to purchase local produce from growers,” said Valerie Horn of CANE Kitchen. “The reimbursement for fresh produce allows CANE Kitchen to get that food in meals for the summer months.

“In the past three weeks, CANE Kitchen has purchased over $10,000 from local growers to be included in meal kits. This is a win for the farmer, local youth, and our community as these dollars recirculate. The K-VIP program works for everyone.”

The application period for sites to receive K-VIP reimbursements is available at feedingky.org and is open until Oct. 31.

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“Feeding Kentucky and the Kentucky Kids Eat program are proud to administer K-VIP as a means to support both our farm families and hungry children,” said Kate McDonald, the Kentucky Kids Eat Coordinator at Feeding Kentucky. “Summer meal sites serve an incredibly important purpose and this funding seeks to expand their reach. We encourage all summer meal site sponsors to apply for K-VIP funding online at feedingky.org.”

The government-ordered closure of schools, businesses, and other organizations has led to an estimated 35 percent increase in hunger in Kentucky, according to Feeding America. The state affiliate, Feeding Kentucky, reports Kentucky households with children are more likely to be food insecure.

Quarles wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture supporting the Kentucky Department of Education’s waiver request to serve non-congregate meals during the pandemic. The request was approved on March 14.

The Kentucky Hunger Initiative was launched in 2016 by Quarles to bring together farmers, charitable organizations, faith groups, community leaders, and government entities to reduce hunger in Kentucky. Learn more by visiting kyagr.com/hunger.

From Kentucky Department of Agriculture

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