The line of people stretched out the door of Tri-County Family Ministries. Third-grader Katie Stagliano helped to serve the more than 275 guests who waited for what might be the only meal they would have that day. It forever changed her life.
Backtrack to early 2008 when Katie’s class participated in the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program. With cabbage seedling in hand, Katie and her brother planted it in the family’s backyard and watched it grow, and grow, and grow. Katie believed her cabbage was special and she wanted to do something special with it. “My father reminded my brother and I often that we were blessed to sit down to a healthy meal every night. There were many families who struggled with hunger. One night at the dinner table it came to me, I knew what I needed to do with my cabbage. I wanted to share it with families struggling with hunger.”
“My mom contacted Fields to Families, a local organization that assists farmers in donating extra crops from their fields to organizations that feed the hungry. They recommended I donate my cabbage to Tri-County Family Ministries, a local soup kitchen in North Charleston, South Carolina.”
Katie and her brother harvested her prized cabbage and the family drove to the ministry to make her donation. Ms. Sue, the Director, greeted them and suggested they weigh the cabbage. Sitting on the kitchen scale, they watched in amazement as the numbers finally landed on 40 pounds! Her cabbage was going to be able to feed a lot of people. “As I served my cabbage to the guests the next day and they thanked me for helping to feed them, I knew I could, and I should do more to help,” said Katie. “My one cabbage helped to feed 275 people. After seeing how many people my one cabbage helped to feed, I thought how many people can a garden feed? And that was the inspiration for me to start Katie’s Krops”
Fast forward to 2019 and Katie’s Krops is in its ninth year of community youth-based gardening with over 100 gardens across the country in 31 states. All the produce grown in the gardens is tended by young people who are getting their hands dirty and learning the joys of growing and harvesting their own produce and being able to share it with those struggling with food insecurity. Last year their participating growers donated over 38,000 pounds of fresh produce to hunger relief programs, cancer centers and directly to families in need. The original garden for Katie’s Krops was started on unused property belonging to the school she attended. Katie, other students and volunteers planted and worked the garden and today it continues to grow and thrive.
Katie’s dream to grow a healthy end to hunger, one vegetable garden at a time continues. The problem of hunger is real, yet Katie’s Krops mission is simple, “we all can help because it only takes a seedling.
“Five years ago I made a decision that forever changed the course of Katie’s Krops. That decision was to offer grants to other kids across the country to start Katie’s Krops gardens. I was only 12 years old and filled with doubts. Would anyone apply for a grant? Did other kids truly share my passion for growing an end to hunger?”
With the help of her mother, Stacy, she cast her doubts aside and launched the first Katie’s Krops grants. They were overwhelmed at the response. More than 200 applications were submitted. “Selecting the recipients proved to be the biggest challenge. I poured over the 200 plus applications, reading and reviewing each and everyone. One stood out among the rest, a class of third grade students in Watkinsville, Georgia. I selected Mrs. McGrath’s third grade class as one of our very first growers and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made!”
In 2018, Katie was finally able to visit the garden in Watkinsville. Today it is one of their longest standing gardens and continues to thrive as an outstanding example of youth-based community involvement.
“Several years ago a need presented itself in my community. That need was for hot, healthy, free meals for families and individuals facing hunger. The only soup kitchen in our community had to shut their doors for financial reasons. I had been donating fresh vegetables from our Katie’s Krops gardens to the soup kitchen. The individuals who relied on the soup kitchen for meals had become my friends. In my heart I knew I needed to help them, to find a way to provide healthy meals to these individuals. I may have been only twelve years old, but I recognized that our local Katie’s Krops Gardens and my friends could be the solution to this problem.” But how to do it? Always the doer Katie approached the head of Food Services at her school and a plan was created and the very first Katie’s Krops Dinner was born.
Meals would be based on the harvest from their garden and every volunteer who helps with the dinners must spend time in the gardens helping to grow the food served. Katie’s Krops Dinners are truly garden to table. What they can’t grow is purchased through donations.
Katie’s Krops Dinners have thrived even though things have changed. Last year more than 2,220 meals were prepared and served. Summerville Baptist Church embraced the program and has been hosting the dinners in their fellowship hall for the past three years. “The parishioners have welcomed us with open arms and embraced the belief that youth can end hunger one vegetable garden at a time. The number of guests we now serve has grown to an average of 150 per dinner. We never know just how many guests will join us. It is all part of the adventure.”
These events serve as more than just a needed meal, they are also a great social outlet. The dinners are available to anyone, but caters to vets, senior citizens, families in need, homeless and disabled.
In May, 2018 Katie was honored by receiving The Jane L. Taylor award from the American Horticulture Society. The award is given to an individual, organization, or program that has inspired and nurtured future horticulturists through efforts in youth gardening.
Today, Katie is 19 and in her second year at College of Charleston where she is on the Dean’s List and studying Communications and Environmental Sustainability Studies. This young organizer continues to oversee her youth-based organization with the help of her parents, John and Stacy. “I have learned the joy that a hot meal can bring to an individual facing hunger. And how blessed I am to have amazing support from my community, my friends and their parents, my teachers, and my parents.”
Written by Julia Haynes / Photography courtesy of Stacy Stagliano