Non-profit organization keeping at-risk children fed during pandemic


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – As schools stay closed and more summer programs are canceled, there is now growing concern about how to keep at-risk children fed.

Pheben Kassahun spoke with one local group who said they have a plan for the difficult months ahead.

After school, many students come to Coalition for Kids for a safe learning environment to grow educationally, emotionally and spiritually, but the COVID-19 crisis has stripped this safe place from about 300 at-risk kids in the Johnson City area.

A team at the non-profit’s facility is hard at work, putting together meals and more for kids.

“We’re going to add- once a week, an educational resource in with the foods so they can give it to their children,” executive director Randy Hensley said. “Play a game or do a project, or something physical that they can have because they can’t afford to buy it more than likely.”

The meal distribution program is providing dinner and snacks to about 130 children three evenings a week.

“One of the places I knew that were going to be the biggest hit, when a family already doesn’t have enough income enough to get through the end of the month, now they may have lost their job. Not for sure, but they have less coming in, so why don’t we provide food,” Hensley explained.

Group leaders worry about kids receiving meals this summer, since summer schools could be cancelled.

However, a statement issued by the Washington County Schools nutritionist, Caitlin Kite, stated they are not concerned for county students.

“As of right now, Washington County Schools Nutrition Program will continue to feed kids throughout the summer as we have done in the past. We typically feed children from the last day of school to a week before school reopens at 8 different feeding sites.

There are several pending factors that need to be finalized before we are able to map out exactly what summer feeding will look like for us this year. I can tell you that we will continue to follow all USDA regulations while attempting to reach as many children as we possibly can. Our goal is always to ensure that no child goes hungry.

Our hope is that we can continue feeding children as we currently are with little to no modifications. Our program is serving free meals to children 0-18 years old at the locations listed below between 9:00am-12:00p.”

Caitlin Kite, Director of School Nutrition for Washington County Schools

Johnson City Schools is working on plans for summer feeding.

Regardless, Hensley said Coalition for Kid’s summer program will be more vital than ever.

“Next year could be really tough for some kids, and teachers who try to figure out how do we get our kids caught back up. So, us doing a summer program and or any other non-profit out there is going to be real beneficial for our children,” Hensley said. “We found ourselves doing stuff by phone, we’re calling up the families. Homework hotlines where kids can call in and they’re doing things on the Internet and on Instagram. “STEAM projects and STEM projects and all that kind of thing.”

Hensley added that funding for the meal program was provided by a generous donation.

“I made a phone call and got a generous donation from the Mooneyham Family Foundation, talked with Second Harvest where they would deliver us food,” he said.

Hamilton Meats Inc., based out of Gray, Tennessee has also donated 500lb hamburgers.

The non-profit organization will also provide meals to kids who are not in the program, upon request.

Coalition for Kids is located at 2423 Susannah St, Johnson City, TN 37601. Anyone interested in putting their kids in a meal or summer program is asked to call: (423) 434-2031.

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