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Community Garden Kitchen Wants To End Hunger in Collin County

A Q&A with President Angela Poen

The seeds for the Community Garden Kitchen were planted in 2014 when the project’s president, Angela Poen, and friends came together over the desire to combat food insecurity in Collin County. According to Feeding America estimates, nearly 138,000 county residents don’t always know where they will get their next meal. Poen proposed building a kitchen at Holy Family School in McKinney for the school to use during the day and her organization to feed community members at night. With the kitchen now in the final stretch of the fundraising process, Poen sounds off on how food insecurity is a community issue.

What inspired you to establish the Community Garden Kitchen? 
Most people think because of the publicity around Collin County—that it’s the richest, the fastest growing—that there cannot possibly be a food insecurity issue. But there are so many people slipping through the cracks, especially
children. It’s wonderful that many schools offer free and reduced lunch programs, but are these children getting
enough food at night or on weekends or during vacations?

What will differentiate the kitchen from other meal programs?
We’ve focused on single parents just above the poverty line, who might have to stretch their paycheck by shaving off food and medicine because they do not receive benefits. Single mothers are the fastest-growing group moving into poverty in our country, and we wanted to develop something to hit that emergency. Collin County has wonderful food pantries and churches that do great services, but someone working might not be able to get there during hours of operation. Additionally, the kitchen will not require paperwork for entry. For people who find themselves in crisis, the paperwork to join one of these
programs can be overwhelming.

What do you wish people knew about food insecurity in Collin County?
The chances of children getting a good education increase when they have proper nutrition. People don’t make the connection that the child who is the problem in the classroom might be hungry or his nutritional levels are not where they should be. Hunger can build such tension in a home, and that can escalate—people can get violent, people can leave. I met a businesswoman who described walking as a 9-year-old 3 miles to the Boys & Girls Club for a meal. She felt so guilty because she could eat but her family didn’t have food and stressed because she didn’t know where her next meal was going to come from. It was 30 years ago, but when she talked about it, there were tears in her eyes. Food insecurity is a traumatic event that affects people for the rest of their lives.

How will the Community Garden Kitchen be run? 
I’m a long-range person so this kitchen is set up for 50 years. We’ve had many local restaurants, bakeries and farmers markets offer to donate so I think there will be an abundance of food. Several of our fundraising events are sustainable and will grow over the years, which will help to support our operations. In addition, there are always grants and other opportunities if we need additional funding.

What will the experience be like for the people dining at the Kitchen? 
The kitchen will be run restaurant-style, not as a soup kitchen. There will be a host to greet each person at the door and a waitperson to take the order off of a limited menu. It’s dining with dignity. If people want to leave a donation or volunteer in exchange for their food, they certainly can, but no requirements will be made.

The Kitchen has been in development since 2014 and sanctioned to raise funds since 2016. What is the status now? 
We’ve raised about $225,000 so far through support from organizations like The Seed Project Foundation and Love Life Foundation, as well as grassroots funds from community members who send in $25 when they can. I’m hoping we will reach the funds needed by the end of 2018,
and we have some fun events planned this year to help us. Our formal fundraising launch is a private, live auction gala in April, and we will also host our third annual golf tournament on Oct. 15 at the El Dorado Country Club. Our
big event will be the Star-Spangled Salsa Fest on the Fourth of July, following the downtown McKinney parade. I had no idea there were so many salsa groupies across Texas! I want the kitchen to feel like a community center so it’s important to make these fundraising events as inclusive and community-oriented as possible.

How can people get involved? 
I look at this as a community issue, and it needs a community solution. A great way to get involved is to help us raise money. We have something called 500 X 500, which means that we’re looking for 500 groups to raise $500. We’ve got one guy who has $5,000 pledged from people because he’s growing his hair out for a year—that’s a hairraising idea for fundraising!