By Katie Stagliano
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” -- Edward Everett Hale
Three years ago, my mom drove me to our local soup kitchen for what was to be a routine vegetable donation. It would be anything but routine. This trip to the soup kitchen would forever change the direction of Katie’s Krops and unite a core group of kids to take our battle to end hunger to the next level.
I had made regular donations to the only soup kitchen in my town for years. I was only 12 years old at the time, and the soup kitchen and homeless shelter was my favorite donation spot. It was close to my home, the residents had become my friends, and the staff was amazing.
As we pulled into the driveway, baskets of freshly harvested vegetables in the back of our truck, I knew something was different. Something had changed. As I approached the door, I knew immediately what it was. A sign was taped to the door: “Closed.” I soon learned that funding had been shut off to the shelter/soup kitchen. My heart sank. The people who resided there were my friends, my supporters. Where would they go for meals? Would they go hungry?
On that day, I knew I needed to fill the void in my community. I knew that I needed to provide meals for families in my hometown. On that day, the Katie’s Krops Dinner was born.
What was my solution? Using the harvest from our gardens, we could create healthy, hot meals for anyone in need in my hometown: Summerville, South Carolina. At Katie’s Krops, we have always donated our harvest to food pantries and soup kitchens and given directly to families in need, but we had never cooked with our harvest.
I approached the head of food services at my school, Mr. McNeill, and my 6th grade science teacher, Cory Fuller. Together we created a plan. We would arrange a meal based on the harvest from our Katie’s Krops Gardens. What we couldn’t grow, we would need to purchase. Our garden volunteers -- all kids just like me -- would help create the dinner. It would be our very own, kid-run, garden-to-table soup kitchen. The very first Katie’s Krops Dinner was born.
Three years have passed since that day. I’m now 15 years old, and on October 22, we will celebrate the third anniversary of our youth-run, garden-inspired dinners. Even though we are kids, we have fed thousands of people healthy, free, hot meals. Our partner, Summerville Baptist Church, believes that kids can help end hunger, and they welcomed us into their commercial kitchen and large dining hall.
Now, as we plant our local gardens, we look to grow year-round menu inspiration: cabbages for our March St. Patrick’s Day feast, sweet potatoes from our raised beds to fill Fall dinner plates, and peppers to accompany sausage and fajitas from May to November.
I’ve learned that with a garden as your inspiration, your menu is limitless. I’ve also come to appreciate the joy a hot meal can bring to an individual facing hunger. And I’ve learned that our meals nurture not only the body, but also the soul. Sharing a meal has brought me, and our youth volunteers, closer to those we help. We know their struggles and celebrate their triumphs at our dinners. We’ve created a unique bond with our guests. Most important, I’ve learned that no matter how young you are, you can make a difference in this world.
Our dinners are not extravagant. They don’t cost a great deal of money, but they are healthy, hot, and well balanced and always include lots of fresh vegetables, protein, and a starch. I dare to say that with the guidance of Chef McNeill, our meals rival many restaurants.
I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished in three years -- the thousands of people we’ve helped to feed, the memories we’ve made, and the delicious meals we’ve created. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without friends, family, and other supporters.
As you sit down to dinner during this season of harvest and thanksgiving, please know that there are a group of kids, 9 to 17 years old, who are making sure that no one goes hungry in Summerville, South Carolina. I dream that this concept will work coast to coast, where hunger is an issue, where there are no soup kitchens, where kids can -- and are -- filling the void.
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