Kids Café is one the nation’s largest free-meal service programs for at-risk children. It provides evening meals to youth in partnership with organizations that offer a safe after-school environment. Food Bank for the Heartland distributes meals each week to 11 Kids Café sites, in the Omaha metro, including Girls Inc., a nonprofit serving underprivileged girls. We sat down with Director of Operations, Tracy Brown, to learn more about the organization and the significance of the Kids Café program.
“Our partnership with the Food Bank is very important. I love the summer program with the lunch and snacks but the school year program with dinner is vital,” says Tracy. “I’ve had parents say to me ‘I’m a little low Miss Tracy, I don’t get paid until tomorrow, so please make sure the girls eat dinner.’ I hear those conversations when no one else knows what the parents are going through. It’s why teaming up with the Food Bank is the right thing to do. We don’t have to buy the food, so we can use the money elsewhere.”
Girls Inc. works with multiple community partners to bring in resources for the girls—from ballet, to STEM, to soccer, to leadership classes. The girls also take advantage of various field trips and internship opportunities to build additional life-long skills.
According to Tracy, it’s the nutrition from the food that allows them to enjoy the extracurricular activities. “Without a doubt, the food has had a direct effect on the girls. They are happier because they know they’re going to get a good meal. I know they’re going to head out on a field trip with a full tummy allowing them to focus and have fun.”
During the summer program, Tracy says it’s easy to tell which kids did not eat the night before. “They come in and they’re really anxious. They’ll ask several times when breakfast will be served, and they sit and watch for the food to come out.”
Tracy says knowing some girls aren’t getting nutrients at home makes the partnership with the Food Bank that much more important. “It touches all the food groups. I love the colors, the fruit, the veggies, the salads. I know the girls are going to have a healthy, balanced meal. They always like the fun food, too—the pizza, the tacos—they get so excited. They truly enjoy their meals, and the Food Bank makes it really appetizing for them.”
She says this partnership has been a blessing not only for the girls, but for the parents as well. “I’ve definitely seen an uptick in parents struggling. After the pandemic, we had a lot of parents who lost their jobs and had to apply for assistance. The parents know the girls are safe here and they’re going to have a hot meal. That gives them peace of mind and allows them to focus on other things. “
Tracy credits the partnership’s success to her CSR (Community Support Representative) at the Food Bank. “She does so much to make sure I’m one step ahead. She comes out to review our services and gives me tips on where we can improve. I know she will not let me fail. It’s such a supportive partnership in so many ways.”
That partnership allows these girls to reach for the stars, paving the way for a generation of healthy, female leaders ready to take on the world.