In 2018, the Chanute Recreation Commission in Chanute, Kansas, was awarded an Increasing Access to Healthy Meals at Parks grant, thanks to support from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and the Walmart Foundation. During the grant year, we primarily focused on improving food security and the healthy eating habits of youth by increasing the number of healthy meals children received through the USDA child nutrition programs, providing evidence-based nutrition education to children and families, and implementing healthy living practices and policies that align with the evidence-based Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards. Our department excelled at creating a healthier environment for youth and families engaged in our out-of-school time programs, but we also had a greater vision for leveraging the grant funds to best serve the needs of the entire community.
Grant funding plans included establishing a full kitchen at the Chanute Recreation Commission's main campus to fill a critical void. Planned education stations will offer additional program options for kids and caregivers to learn about nutrition, food preparation and cooking safety, and an adjacent room offers space to serve as a community feeding center.
Chanute, like many communities across the country, has been grappling with the effects of climate change in the central plains and southeast, including threats and occurrences of inland flooding, tornadoes and severe storms, drought and wildfires. To address these rising concerns, we knew we needed to be prepared. Our department made strategic kitchen equipment purchases to support immediate efforts to improve food access and education, while ensuring we could serve the community in the wake of disaster.
Record-setting rain in the spring of 2019 caused the Neosho River to swell and some levees to breech, leading to widespread flooding in the east part of town from the river two miles away. The Chanute Recreation Commission opened our doors to the community, partnering with the Red Cross and operating the center as an emergency shelter.
The incident served as a reminder that community emergencies are always unexpected and preparation is the best prevention. Thanks to the Commit to Health grant funding to establish a kitchen facility, we will be fully prepared to serve future community needs.
Julie Aikens is the Grant Coordinator for Chanute Recreation Commission.