By Kathryn Sesser-Dorné
The Birmingham Times
Thanks to Kikstart Inc. a permanent solution is in place for students who no longer had access to regular meals when area schools closed due to COVID-19.
Kikstart Inc is a program that aims to provide healthy, nutritious food, serving mostly children.
The Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD) has partnered with the nonprofit group to provide lunches during the week at several of its sites, including Southtown Court. Kikstart Inc. is also working with Birmingham City Schools (BCS), Jefferson County Schools, and the city of Fairfield to help feed students.
“Hungry children can’t function. I’m an adult, and when I’m hungry, I can’t function,” said Kikstart Inc. Chief of Staff Chardra Gordon. “I think Kikstart is really doing its part to reduce hunger among children and families locally, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having access to nutritious food and freedom from hunger, I believe, are critical to the future of economic, social, and emotional health in the community.”
Kikstart Inc. was started nearly a quarter-century ago in Arizona by Ensley native Dr. Douglas Jackson, who then brought it back home to help reduce the number of children in the Birmingham area who live with real hunger.
The Kikstart feeding program—which began on Monday, April 13, and will conclude on Friday, June 5—is open to anyone 18 years and younger and will be free of charge. Students will be served breakfast and lunch; meals will be available Monday through Friday. In an effort to minimize contact and maintain social distancing, food is distributed by curbside pickup only.
Gordon has been with Kikstart since January, after she returned to Birmingham from Charlotte, North Carolina, last year to help care for her mother. Prior to moving to Charlotte, she worked in Georgia’s DeKalb County school system for 23 years. She learned about Kikstart while researching food options for Birmingham’s Legacy Prep charter school, where she worked at the time.
“I [saw] the value of the meals they were putting out, so it wasn’t difficult for me to join Kikstart,” Gordon said. “I believe in their vision to feed kids great, high-quality food.”
When it comes to planning meals, Kikstart sticks to a nutrition formula.
“We have to have all five components for our lunches: protein, grains, vegetables, fruit, and, of course, milk,” Gordon explained. “And they’re kids, so they get a great snack. We do cookies or cheese and crackers.”
In partnering with HABD and BCS, Kikstart finds itself accepting a tremendous challenge in delivering upwards of 10,000 meals each week. Having to take on such an immediate responsibility due to the current quarantine and social-distancing rules has not gone unnoticed for Gordon.
“I thank the employees every single day because they are on the front line, coming out, wearing masks, checking temperatures, wearing gloves, packaging, preparing,” she said. “All of those things take away from them being at home in this controlled, quarantined environment. I admire them, as well. Our drivers are out every day, making sure these babies have quality meals.”
Kikstart is working to ensure the safety of its employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The workers pack food on tables that are placed six feet apart, they also change their gloves often and ensure that there’s no cross-contamination.
“The need has been so great, and we’ve had to figure things out really quickly, so we’ve put in some long hours because we need to figure it out for the kids,” Gordon said. “One thing that Dr. Jackson has stressed to us: Don’t forget about the children.”
More Than Just Meals
In addition to the regular feeding program, Kikstart offers food boxes each week to families that are the most vulnerable and provides other services, as well: “One Friday, Dr. Jackson gave away 20 cases of [disposable diapers],” Gordon said.
The community effort produces 12,000 to 20,000 meals a week, depending on need. Kikstart receives 700 pounds of bread a day donated from Publix and the group might spend $2,800 to $4,000 a day on milk alone.
“We all get going at around 4 in the morning. We have a bread run that goes to Publix. … Donated items that come in need to be sorted,” Gordon said. “Wood Fruitticher, [a major food distribution company in the Southeast], has agreed to donate some items to us. … We have a lot that has just come to our plate, and we’re so grateful.
“There are so many great people here in the Birmingham area that want to help with things, that want to provide a service for the kids—and that’s what it’s about.”
Kikstart meals will be distributed at a handful of HABD sites and the following BCS locations:
- Bertram A. Hudson K-8 School (3300 F. L. Shuttlesworth Dr.),
- Huffman High School (950 Springville Rd.),
- P.D. Jackson Olin High School (1300 Ave. F, Ensley),
- A.H. Parker High School (400 Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd.),
- Ramsay High School (1800 13th Ave. S.),
- Wenonah High School (2800 Wilson Rd.), Woodlawn High School (5620 1st Ave. N.).
To learn more about Kikstart Inc., visit www.kikstart.org.
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