City Spotlight Kansas City

The city of Kansas City, Kansas has taken great strides to improve health in Wyandotte County.  Mayor Mark Holland put forth a plan to create a “healthy campus” in downtown Kansas City, Kan. This initiative aims to create an area in the heart of the city dedicated to health. So far, the estimated $30 million dollar project has $7 million dollars in backing from the Wyandotte Health Foundation and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City.  The campus, which will include a grocery store, a community center, and a health clinic, is part of Mayor Holland’s plan to improve health in Wyandotte.

The state of health in Wyandotte County was ranked 105 in 2009, last of all the counties in the state.  This ranking by the Kansas Health Institute spurred incredible changes in the county, which is working to be the fastest improving county for health in Kansas. To this end, Holland wants Kansas City to be “a national model for healthy living in an urban area.” To address health issues in Wyandotte County, the Healthy Community Wyandotte Coalition was created and the priority goal of their four goals is providing nutritious meals in school and in the summer.

Wyandotte County schools are currently utilizing school gardens and farm-to-school food services to provide healthy food to students.  There are more than thirty schools providing fresh produce to their young people.  But, there is still a tremendous need to access nutritional meals. In Wyandotte County, 20 percent of the county residents live in food insecure households, 35 percent of children live in poverty, and 84 percent of students in Kansas City are enrolled in public schools.

There are a limited number of schools in Wyandotte County that provide all four meals, breakfast, lunch, afterschool and summer meals, to their students.  However, all schools in USD 500, Kansas City’s largest school district, provide free and reduced breakfast. They adhere to federal nutrition standards, which require fruits and vegetables to be served at every meal.  

To increase the number of schools that provide free meals, Mayor Holland, health leaders and Wyandotte’s residents gathered to brainstorm ways to increase food access for students. 

On May 1, the coalition, along with the United Government and the Wyandotte County Public Health Department, hosted the Wyandotte County Mayor’s Food Summit.  With almost 250 community leaders and residents in attendance, Mayor Holland was able to bring access to healthy foods to the forefront.  The summit included a breakout session on ideas on providing nutritious meals at breakfast, lunch, afterschool and summer at schools. This session included a focus on access to federal child nutrition programs like the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program. 

To ensure that students are fed, the county is working to increase availability of summer programs. With thirty six school and non-school sites providing nutritious foods to its students, USD 500 is looking to expand to ten new summer sites.  The school district also plans to transform afterschool snacks into dinners, adding 10 new afterschool dinner sites.

The Kansas City/Wyandotte County is using new marketing materials, which advertise summer meals and an interactive site that maps where summer meals are available.

Including summer meals as part of Wyandotte County’s efforts to improve health will not only help to move the needle on food insecurity, but will greatly improve the developments and achievements of its students.