Veggie Truck food program feeds, teaches kids

Tom Corwin / Staff Writer for the Augusta Chronicle

Shihein Bailey was staring down at the container of tomatoes and the knife and cutting board Tuesday when Annmarie Knox asked the question.

Shihein Bailey (left) and Jerrion Shelley try their hands Tuesday at making tomato kebabs at the Veggie Truck Farmers Market in Augusta. The Summer Feeding program aims to reach children who would normally be getting meals through the National School Lunch Program.

“You’ve cut a tomato, right?” said Knox of Wholesome Wave Georgia.

“One time,” said Bailey, 10. “I almost threw up.”

Nevertheless, he managed to cut a couple but declined to put them on the kebab he was creating.

That was the point of the Summer Feeding program at the Veggie Truck Farmers Market put on by Wholesome Wave, Augusta Locally Grown and Icebox Ministries, to feed the kids and give them the chance to learn about and try something new, Knox said.

“It opens them up to different things,” she said.

The groups partnered this summer to help the Richmond County Board of Education distribute meals at the market as part of its summer feeding program, which tries to reach kids who would normally be getting meals through the National School Lunch Program.

Only about 17 percent of Georgia’s kids in that program were connecting with a summer meals program last year, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

There is a tremendous need for them not only in Georgia but in Richmond County as well, according to Feeding America.

In 2014, 17.7 percent of people in Georgia or 1.8 million experienced food insecurity, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as lack of access to food to lead a healthy and active life, the group reported.

In Richmond County, the need was even greater at 24.1 percent or 48,460 people, according to Feeding America.

Setting the program up in the Farmers Market would hopefully attract parents as well, where they can get double their purchases using Electronic Benefit Transfer or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cards, Knox said.

But the turnout hasn’t been quite what they had hoped, and the heat and afternoon thunderstorms might have hampered that, she said.

Next year, the hope is to make more people aware of the program through increased advertising and perhaps partnering with some churches , Knox said.

This week was the first in which they were able to make the meals themselves, using local vegetables and herbs, she said.

Next Tuesday, however, will be the last for this year for the program.

Knox said she has an idea about how to end with a bang.

“I think we’re going to do ice cream,” she told the kids. “You can’t say no to ice cream, right?”