April 2, 2020 | By: Katie Pratt
Lexington, Ky.

Staff with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service are working with local partners to help some of the most vulnerable members in their communities find food during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In smaller counties that are pressed for resources, it’s important that extension readily partners with other community organizations to serve local vulnerable populations,” said Lee Ann McCuiston, Todd County 4-H youth development agent.

When Todd County Schools closed because of the pandemic, McCuiston contacted the superintendent and the food service director to offer the extension office’s assistance. Since March 16, McCuiston has worked with the school system and Family Resources Youth Services Center to pack and deliver meals to youth as part of their feeding program. Families request meals through the school website or social media page. Then, school personnel and volunteers like McCuiston pack and deliver the meals to one of 10 designated pickup locations around the county. The organizations distribute, on average, 320 meals each day. In the lunches, McCuiston includes nutrition-related messages and easy recipes. Curt Judy, the county’s agriculture and natural resources extension agent, and Amy Stooksbury, Nutrition Education Program assistant, also have helped with meal distribution.

UK extension agents and NEP assistants in all 120 counties have stepped up to help more than 400 organizations like local school systems provide food for needy families, as well as education and information to help the public stay safe and healthy. Some of the educational messages they have passed along include things like locations of local food pantries and commodity programs, tips for stress management and hand washing. They find innovative ways to distribute their items while still practicing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for social distancing.

About two hours north of Todd County, Bethony Morris, UK Nutrition Education Program assistant in Hancock County, is working with community partners to help low-income individuals find food.

“I grew up in Hancock County, and I love it here. For me to be able to help my community during this time is a blessing and doesn’t feel like work at all,” she said.

Morris is assisting Julie Newton, Audubon Area Community Services coordinator, with delivering groceries from the Hancock County Food Pantry to residents of low-income housing in Lewisport. In the grocery bags, Morris includes the Nutrition Education Program’s Chop Chop Magazine, which provides information on easy ways to prepare kid-friendly, healthy meals.

In addition, she is working through Blackford Baptist Church in Hawesville, where her husband is the pastor, to reach low-income families with healthy foods. The church regularly offers food to the community on the last Saturday of the month, but they provided food for their clients the past two Saturdays because of the pandemic. During the past two weeks, along with 80 bags of groceries, Morris distributed 35 Chop Chop magazines and 30 NEP calendars, which provide healthy recipes and nutrition and food safety information.

In Eastern Kentucky, Brad Stone, UK Nutrition Education Program assistant in the Lewis County Extension office, is working with the public school system’s feeding program to provide local children with breakfast and lunch each day school is closed. A local clergy member and former school bus driver, Stone had a prior connection to the school system and is well known in the county. He is packing and distributing meals for the schools at Garrison Elementary School in the community of Garrison, along the Ohio River, in the northeastern corner of the county where he lives.

Since March 16, Stone has packed and distributed more than 1,200 meals as part of the effort. Each day, he includes educational information on topics like handwashing, food safety, physical activity ideas and MyPlate.

He plans to continue to volunteer with the schools as long as they remain closed.

Contact: 

Lee Ann McCuiston, lmccuist@uky.edu; Brad Stone, brad.stone@uky.edu; Bethony Morris, bethony.morris@uky.edu