Within Ashland Independent Schools, more than 300 students qualify as homeless and even more need free or reduced lunches, according to Kelly Heishman, a teacher at Paul G. Blazer High School.
“We know that hunger impacts student learning,” said Heishman. “If a child comes to school hungry, it’s going to impair their ability to learn and succeed, so we know this is a huge need in our community.”
There are programs to help feed hungry students during the school week, but Ashland’s Student Senate noticed a gap, especially for middle and high school students.
“During the school day, they can come to school and receive free breakfast and free lunch, but during the weekends and breaks, they don’t have that opportunity,” said Gavin Couture, one of two high school students selected to represent AISD as student senators.
Couture and the other student senator, Cassie Stevens, came up with an idea to bring food to students in need on weekends and breaks, by using a food truck to deliver it.
Heishman, who sponsors the group, encouraged them to put their idea into action by applying for a Community Challenge Grant in August. On Monday, the Kentucky Valley Educational Coop (KVEC) announced AISD had won the $10,000 grant.
Their plan is to renovate a box truck that the school district already owns. The truck is currently used to transport food that’s prepared and packaged off-site, such as cold lunches. However, the group plans to transform it into a fully-functioning food truck, where they can cook and serve hot, fresh meals.
“We thought it would be a great idea to take that box truck, flip it and turn it into a full-service food truck,” said Stevens. “That way, we can serve food on-site and prepare it on-site.”
The group also plans to incorporate help from art club students, shop students and other community partners and civic groups.
“We’re going to wrap the truck with an art design made by our art students,” said Heishman. “We’re going to install a concession window and an awning to provide added security for those serving the food. Then we’re going to rip out the carpet and install a kitchen.”
Not only do they plan to bring hungry students meals on wheels, they hope when people see the food truck around Ashland, it helps open their eyes to the issue.
“I feel like a lot of people aren’t fully aware of the situation and how there are so many hungry and homeless kids each day, so I think this project is really going to bring awareness to that fact,” said Stevens.
The group is hoping to complete the food truck renovations by April to hit the road.