Greenwich Teens Travel to Appalachia to Feed Food Insecure Families

Some of the RAMP Kids from Greenwich meet the children they are helping in rural Appalachia on the summer mobile feeding route as they distribute food to Martin County public school students. Pictured from Greenwich (center) are three RAMP Kids: Alexis Killeen, Stephanie Busani and Charlotte Reid.

RAMP Kids, the youth division of the Greenwich-based nonprofit RAMP (Rockin’ Appalachian Mom Project), made its annual trip to rural Appalachia to help feed food insecure families at the end of June. RAMP has been working in Martin County, Kentucky, one of the poorest counties in the nation, for ten years. The poverty level in Martin County exceeds 45 percent of residents that live at or below the poverty level and 73 percent of children in Martin County qualify for free or reduced lunch. RAMP’s mission is to improve the well-being of impoverished children and families in Martin County, Kentucky, through community outreach and hunger relief programs, with the ultimate goal of empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.

RAMP Kids was formed as a part of RAMP in 2013 and the Greenwich children involved with RAMP Kids have traveled to Martin County, Kentucky, for the past six years. This year, 24 teenagers from Greenwich middle and high schools and 14 of their parents went to Martin County, Kentucky, and spent a long weekend working in the RAMP Food Pantry receiving, sorting, packaging and distributing 35,000 pounds of fresh produce to distribute to the families that are supported by RAMP.

Working in the RAMP Food Pantry in Martin County, Kentucky, are Abby Shropshire, Jessica Murphy, Max Feenstra and Jake Mondschein (front four) sorting and packaging cherries to be distributed to families in need.

Working in the RAMP Food Pantry in Martin County, Kentucky, are Abby Shropshire, Jessica Murphy, Max Feenstra and Jake Mondschein (front four) sorting and packaging cherries to be distributed to families in need.

“It’s amazing to be able to help so many families and especially children,” said Jake Mondschein, a rising senior at Greenwich High School, and a resident of Old Greenwich.

“Lving in Greenwich, we know there are families even here in our own town who struggle with food insecurity, but we are blessed that there are services that help them,” Mondschein added. “In Kentucky, many children are hungry every day and the infrastructure to help them just doesn’t exist. It’s sad to think that there are so many children in the United States that go hungry on a daily basis or don’t get enough nutritious fresh fruit or vegetables to eat. It feels good to be a part of RAMP and RAMP Kids and help in this small way.”

RAMP was founded in 2009 by Amy Guerrieri, an Old Greenwich resident and mom of four. Guerrieri, one of the owners of Upper Crust Bagel Company, in  has long been involved in the food industry and when she heard that there were hungry children in America, a mere day’s drive from Connecticut, she had to do something.

“That first trip to Martin County, Kentucky, back in 2009, was inspired by watching a special TV segment by Diane Sawyer on ABC’s 20/20 entitled “A Hidden America,” Guerrieri said. “After seeing the extent of poverty and hunger so close to home, I rallied some friends and we went to Kentucky and delivered a truck-load of food and fresh water. That was the first trip of many. In 2013, we expanded and started taking our children with us to Kentucky and they became RAMP Kids. We originally brought about eight of our own children with us on that first trip. Today, we have more than 60 kids and 40 families that participate in RAMP Kids throughout the school year. It is incredible.”

Greenwich families that participated in the most recent RAMP and RAMP Kids trip to Kentucky included: the Athan, Bancroft, Busani, Christensen, Duda, Feenstra, Feldmeth, Guerrieri, Gruenstrass, Harford, Mondschein, Papanicolaou, Reid, Van Schaik, Shropshire, Zola and Zych families.

RAMP has been successful in carving out unique partnerships to help provide food to the families in Martin County, Kentucky, such as a three-year partnership with Whole Foods Market during the first several years, and an on-going relationship with the Southeast Produce Council and Florida-based Society of St. Andrews. This year, RAMP received a truckload of 35,000 pounds of fresh produce from the Southeast Produce Council to stock the RAMP Food Pantry and distribute to needy families. To help with the packing and carrying of the produce, local Greenwich merchants Whole Foods, Acme, King’s, Vineyard Vines, Sweaty Betty and SoulCycle donated reusable shopping bags.

“It’s really impactful to witness first-hand the families lining up for hours before we start distributing the food,” said Logan Guerrieri, a rising Greenwich High School senior and son of RAMP founder Amy Guerrieri. “Last year was so hot and the families had kids with them. It’s a long time to wait for the food as we prepare everything.”

This year one of the participating moms, Jen Feenstra, came up with the idea of entertaining the children in line at the RAMP Food Pantry as they waited for it to open. She and the other parents stocked up on water, bubbles, coloring books and other activities to entertain the children while they waited. “It was a huge success,” said Logan Guerrieri.

RAMP and RAMP Kids distributed food to approximately 275 Martin County families in one day, the majority of whom live below the poverty line.

During the school year, RAMP Kids is comprised of Greenwich-area middle and high school students who work throughout the year to raise money for RAMP’s Backpack Snack Program, which provides fresh produce and shelf-stable food to 350 of Martin County’s neediest children. The children on the Backpack Snack Program eat their main, and often only meals at school. The majority of them do not have any regular access to food at home, which means they rarely have anything to eat on a weekend or holiday when school is closed. The RAMP Backpack Snack Program helps fill that void.

Rising Greenwich High School junior, Auggie Bancroft of Old Greenwich noted, “We raise money and support the Backpack program all year long. But it’s not enough. We give food to 350 kids on a regular basis, but there are at least 700 more kids in Martin County public schools who need it.”

Amy Guerrieri added, “Until you visit and see the conditions for yourself, it can be hard to understand. Rural poverty is completely different from urban poverty. There is no soup kitchen or homeless shelter like we have here in the tri-state area. If you’re hungry or poor in Martin County, there are limited services to provide assistance. And if you can’t afford to buy food for your family, they don’t eat.”

“I was blown away,” said Ila van Schaik, a rising Greenwich High School junior and new RAMP Kids member. “I had no idea that kids my age were living like this in our own country. This trip was really eye opening and has changed my perspective on hunger in the US.”

Summertime is especially challenging, though the Martin County Kentucky school system does operate a mobile feeding program to provide lunch to the neediest children while school is not in session. RAMP has worked closely with the Martin County school district to support their summer mobile feeding efforts for the past several years. On this most recent trip, the RAMP Kids purchased and packed up nearly 300 bags of shelf-stable foods including granola bars, oatmeal, pasta, protein snacks and more. Then they travelled with Martin County school buses into the Appalachian hollows to distribute the bags of food, along with summer lunches, to kids on three different bus routes.

RAMP’s primary focus is hunger relief and RAMP distributes an average of 110,000 pounds of food annually. In addition, RAMP also provides emergency aid and assistance to those that need it the most. On this recent trip, RAMP Kids assisted a family in need by painting a house and doing some yard clean up. The family they helped is headed by a grandmother who is the sole caregiver for six of her grandchildren ranging in age from six to 16.

Water was another focus of RAMP’s on this trip to Kentucky. Martin County, Kentucky, has been plagued by a water infrastructure issue that has severely limited the amount of fresh drinking water available to the community. The situation was so dire this year that schools actually had to close for several days because they didn’t have water. To help the community, RAMP has installed a pilot program in partnership with Zero Mass Water to create fresh drinking water out of solar-like panels that turn moisture in the air into water. While this system is just a test and will only produce about 60 gallons of water a week, a mere “drop in the bucket,” stated Amy Guerrieri, it is a start to help those served by the RAMP Food Pantry have access to additional drinking water.

RAMP is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the well-being of impoverished children and families in Martin County, Kentucky, through community outreach and hunger relief programs, with the ultimate goal of empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty. RAMP invests in the community from the ground up to empower families, schools and organizations to take ownership and bring about positive change. RAMP has worked with the community and schools to build gardens, overhaul the school lunch programs, provide mentorship and small business loans to local businesses and operates a food pantry and mobile food delivery system as well as the Backpack Snack Program with local Martin County, Kentucky, schools. To learn more about RAMP, visit rampamerica.org on Facebook and Instagram @RAMPAmerica. To contact the organization, email rampamericaky@gmail.com.

Those interested in supporting RAMP’s hunger relief efforts, learning more or getting involved with RAMP or RAMP Kids should visit: rampamerica.org.