While food insecurity has always been an issue across the nation, the pandemic clearly exacerbated people’s access to food.

According to data from Map the Meal Gap put together by Feeding America, just about every county in the Kansas City area experienced an increase in food insecurity rates during the pandemic. In Jackson County, the food insecurity rate jumped from 14% to 19%. For children, it jumped from 15% to 24%. In Wyandotte County, the data shows a similar jump for children from 23% to 32%.

In addition, Black families are twice as likely as White families to face food insecurity.

Chef Shanita McAfee-Bryant was already aware of food insecurity issues in Kansas City and when she saw how many food service workers are food insecure, it inspired her to do more.

“Could you imagine working around food all day and being hungry, or struggling to feed your family?” said McAfee-Bryant. “And if you live in the 3rd or 5th District, it’s very difficult for somebody to access a grocery store if you don’t have a car.”

McAfee-Bryant launched the Prospect Urban Eatery in January 2020, but that was right before the pandemic, with a goal of facilitating 16-week courses for low-income individuals and those facing food insecurity to be trained in the culinary arts, while also receiving wraparound services.

The pandemic has slowed the launch of the 16-week training program, which she modeled after Catalyst Kitchens, a Seattle-based nonprofit with a similar concept.

The Prospect will train about six to eight students for each 16-week session. Students will not only be taught culinary training, but about problem solving, finances and conflict resolution, addressing all of the needs the student may have.

“I’m not training people to be a dishwasher or the official potato cutter. We’re trying to train people wanting to be at a living wage,” McAfee-Bryant said. “There is a lot of money to be made in some of these alternative food jobs that no one really talks about like recipe testing, food photography and food styling.”

Safety concerns with the COVID-19 slowed the 16-week program launch and they’re currently trying to find a central location for the classes, a small restaurant area and a community space. McAfee-Bryant predicts the program will start up in 2022.

Even though the training program has not started, the Prospect has been busy in the community since their launch.

Last summer, the Prospect helped agencies who provide food to those in need after there was a surge in demand for their services during the pandemic. They have helped organizations like Kanbe’s Market and KC Family Meals put together meals for those in need.

McAfee-Bryant also said they are engaging with the community online as well through their ongoing Kitchen Confidence nutritional literacy program. The Prospect is building a library of resources exposing people to healthy and nutritious recipes through cooking classes and interviews with celebrities like Hot 103 JAMZ host Shay Moore.

Eventually, McAfee hopes the Prospect will work on food policies for Kansas City, something that she has not seen addressed in the city yet.

“We have the potential to use our space to really bring some notice to what is actually happening with food access,” McAfee-Bryant said, “and hopefully, we will be able to model a different approach to workforce development training.”

To learn more about the Prospect Urban Eatery, visit their website: www.TheProspectKC.org.

Jazzlyn "Jazzie” is the former senior reporter for our team, who joined the company in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, through the Report for America service program. For the past two years, she covered...

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