Serving our Neighbors (SON) Ministry is a faith-based organization with a mission to address suburban food insecurity in the Columbus, Ohio area with a focus on the suburban school district of Hilliard. The founder and director, Kim Emch, was shocked to learn about the thousands of children in her suburban community who received free and reduced lunch and breakfast during the school year. What shocked her even more was the realization that when summer hit, many of these children were missing meals. As a person of faith, Kim felt called to provide meals for these children. So, without any non-profit or social service experience, in 2007 Kim founded The Hilliard Free Summer Lunch program for Kids (which in 2009 evolved into SON Ministries) out of her home.

Summer Lunch Service Programs are difficult to administer because of logistical and sourcing concerns. These programs are also constrained because of cumbersome federal regulations and requirements. Qualification for free summer lunch programs is determined by density of poverty (Kline, 2016). Many urban centers are littered with “qualifying sites” for free summer lunch programs, but this is generally not the case for suburbs. However, recent trends in metropolitan neighborhood change have witnessed the gentrification of many urban spaces that for decades experienced structural disinvestment (Lees, Slater, & Wyly, 2010). As these changes have occurred in urban spaces, suburban spaces, too, have been changing. These suburban spaces are becoming more racially, ethnically, and economically diverse (Kneebone and Berube, 2013). Because of the nature of suburban development, meeting density of poverty requirements for federal free summer lunch programs can be challenging if not downright impossible in some suburban spaces. Federal recognition of this does allow free summer lunch programs to exist, however, the paperwork necessity for these sites is threefold the requirement in urban spaces, putting an onerous burden on suburban social service providers (Kline, 2016).

SON Ministries, under Kim’s leadership, has created a system that explains then simplifies and streamlines a suburban free summer lunch model that the organization shares with other suburban service providers across Ohio. However, while this system explains and simplifies the onerous federal requirements, it does not eliminate them. Therefore, Kim has spent a good ten years searching for partners who can help her better justify the great need that she knows exists in the Hilliard Community. Early this year, Kim met a researcher from The Ohio State University (OSU) who is involved with two interdisciplinary community-university collaborations. Both teams are comprised of university and community partners, including the Columbus Public Health Department. Both teams are working collaboratively to map the food and health environment in Central Ohio using both quantitative surveying and qualitative participatory mapping approaches.

The output the teams envision is an online, publically available, contiguous, food and health environment map of Central Ohio, the kind of map that could help Kim make her case for free summer lunch programs across Central Ohio suburbs. Kim eagerly joined the two teams, which at the time were about to enter into a planning process to coordinate collaboration with each other. This means that the two teams were entering into a process of developing their shared research agenda and theoretical framework and modifying their methodological approaches. This provided Kim and other community partners to engage in true Community-Based Participatory Research designed in a way where all involved parties can benefit from the project. The planning process for the two teams kicks off this summer and will be seeded by an all-day planning retreat in late May.

Kneebone, E. & Berube, A. (2013). Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. Brookings Institution Press.

Kline, A. (2016). Area Eligibility in Child Nutrition Programs (SP 08-2017, CACFP 04-2017, SFSP 03-2017) (United State of America, USDA, Food and Nutrition Services). Alexandria, VA: USDA.

Lees, L., Slater, T., & Wyly, E. (2010). The gentrification reader. London: Routledge.