North Texas is largely recognized as one of the fastest-growing and most prosperous regions in Texas. Home values are at an all-time high and national corporations are flocking to surrounding cities offering new job opportunities. Amid the large homes popping up in every community and the growing sea of business offices dotting the landscape, there is a relatively large segment of the population that still struggles to make ends meet. Hunger and poverty are growing here, too.
Even though it is not usually recognized, some households across Collin and Denton Counties are food insecure, meaning they are uncertain of having or unable to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all their family because they do not have enough money or resources for food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) most recent data, close to 50 million Americans, including nearly 16 million children, live in food insecure households. While programs such as food pantries and soup kitchens do what they can to fill the void, it is not always enough, and they do not always offer the most nutritious food.
According to Angela Poen, the president and executive director of the Community Garden Kitchen of Collin County, more than 40,000 children in Collin County lack access to enough food to live an active, healthy life. She says, “In Collin County, an unconscionable 27.3 percent of school-age children are food insecure. In our most populous cities, Frisco averages 10.5 percent of children who are insecure, with the neighboring cities of Plano at 28 percent, McKinney at 30.1 percent and Allen at 15 percent.”
Children living in food insecure households suffer not only nutritionally, but academically and developmentally. Ms. Poen shares, “Kindergarteners who experience even minimal food insecurity at home learn less than their peers do during that formative year. Undernourished elementary school students have lower math scores and are more likely to repeat a grade level. They are also more likely to have seen a psychologist and have a harder time getting along with their peers.”
So, what is the Community Garden Kitchen of Collin County? Concerned about the hunger in our community, a group of citizens, educators and business professionals have joined together to raise funds for this new venture. Ms. Poen says, “This is a dream to build a kitchen and dining facility at Holy Family Preschool in McKinney to bring some of the best, freshest and most healthy food to families and children in need. The new free-standing building will include a kitchen and dining area to serve the preschool students and staff during school hours. In the evening, after the school has closed, the kitchen will be open to serve families in the community who are experiencing food insecurity. Since Collin County is largely seen as a wealthy county, so many of our residents do not realize there are so many adults and children that are food insecure on a daily basis. To bring awareness and to get the word out about the Community Garden Kitchen, we meet with groups, churches and businesses and we have events to present the statistics and the vision. We receive updates about the ever-increasing need through data compiled at the North Texas Food Bank and all the schools in Collin County. As the population increases, so do the number of students and adults who require some type of assistance.”
The group became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in February 2016 and is recognized by GuideStar. The organization has no paid staff, so all contributions go toward construction development. The City of McKinney has approved construction of this project, and while located in McKinney, they will serve anyone in Collin County. The kitchen requires no ID, so they welcome and serve anyone who is hungry.
While not operational at this time, as construction depends on funding, Ms. Poen explains, “The Community Garden Kitchen is an important compliment to other services providing food to fill the needs of our area. Many people experiencing hunger do not have the equipment or opportunity to prepare or store food. This kitchen will be the only facility in Collin County open in the evening to meet the food needs of single parents, students, the working poor, the homeless and seniors.”
The Community Garden Kitchen will be a safe, welcoming place, where anyone in need can enjoy a delicious, healthy meal. Seating will allow for between 140-150 guests at a time. On Saturdays, the kitchen will offer free classes to anyone on gardening, nutrition, cooking and food storage, but nothing is required to have a meal. “Children who experience good nutrition tend to do better in school. A good education is a key element in enjoying a productive life. A new building at this location will be a great asset to the neighborhood,” Ms. Poen says.
Gardens are an important component to the Community Garden Kitchen. Ms. Poen shares, “There are garden plots located at the campus that are currently rented and worked on by individuals. Once the kitchen is finished, food will be grown in the garden for students and evening guests. Plants grown will be selected according to the growing season, so fresh vegetables will be offered at each meal.”
Ms. Poen adds, “Dining with dignity is the goal. This will not be a soup kitchen, as found across the county. This model is changing into a restaurant model. Guests will be seated at cloth-covered tables by a hostess who will provide a menu. Guests will be allowed to choose from two entrees, a soup or salad, a vegetable, a dessert and tea, coffee or water. This is a better way to manage food costs and reduce food waste and it allows for guests to make their own decisions.” Meals will be served on plates and silverware, instead of plastic, will be used. People will be allowed to leave a donation, if they so choose. This model allows for more interaction between guests and the servers and encourages local teens who need some sort of beginning work experience to volunteer at the kitchen to receive valuable training. “We hope that church groups, businesses and social organizations will volunteer to support and serve meals in the kitchen. We hope the Community Garden Kitchen will be a model copied by all the cities in Collin County,” Ms. Poen shares.
There are three major fundraising events planned for 2018 that will require volunteers and sponsors. The first event is at The Sanctuary event center on April 5, at 7 p.m. Tickets to the “Let’s Make a Deal” event are $150 and guests will enjoy the music of local favorite, DJ Johnny B, a live auction and a raffle. The first annual family-friendly Star Spangled Salsa Fest will take place on July 4, at Chestnut Square, from 11 a.m.–4 p.m. with a salsa contest, live entertainment and children’s activities. Tickets are $10 and children under 12 get in for free. The third annual Kitchen Classic at Eldorado Country Club, taking place October 5, will feature a fun-filled day of golf, food, drinks and great raffle prizes.
To date, the Community Garden Kitchen has raised $225,000 towards
their $750,000 goal. To learn more about providing financial support or
volunteering for fundraising events to help make this kitchen a reality, visit