By JULIA ROBERTS GOAD
A grassroots group working to help end poverty in Appalachia is hosting an event to unveil a bus that will allow them to take their programs out to the people in the community.
The Rockin’ Appalachian Mom Project (RAMP) is a non-profit organization that works in Martin County to combat poverty through food, nutrition and economic development. Their Spring Fling will be held Thursday, April 19, from 5 until 7 p.m. at the Roy Collier Community Center in Inez.
There will be food, games and activities for the entire family.
The bus that will be shown at the Spring Fling is part of the Community Co-Op, a plan to provide cohesive resources directly to the community through a mobile traveling bus that serves Martin County.
“We have been working in Martin County three years now, with several programs,” Amy Guerrier, founder of RAMP, said. “The next logical step was to take these successful programs and to bring them directly to more people that are able to benefit from them. With the bus, we will be able to do that.”
The bus is equipped with technology that will provide hands-on nutrition advice, cooking skills & seminars, a mobile food pantry and can be used as a produce/farmer’s market stand and event center. The Co-Op coordinator will be RAMP’s local liaison with the community, schools and residents.
Guerrieri, a mother of four and entrepreneur, founded the Rockin’ Appalachian Mom Project after she was inspired by watching a television special entitled “The Hidden America.” She said she wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives, and when she saw the plight of children in Appalachia, a mere day’s drive from her home in the New York area, that she had to do something.
Guerrieri’s approach was unique. Instead of trying to solve the huge problem of poverty, Guerrieri took the initiative to work community-to-community, family-to-family, mom-to-mom, and kid-to-kid. By mentoring several families that were truly in need, and aligning RAMP with the schools and a food pantry that serves a large but manageable group of families, RAMP has made a measurable difference in the lives of these families in a short period of time.
One of the most hands-on partnerships RAMP has undertaken is one with Martin County Schools, Guerrieri said.
The state of Kentucky has the 4th highest poverty rate in the nation, at 16.3 percent of its population. Martin County, however, has a poverty rate of 45 percent. More than 70 percent of students in the Martin County school district receive reduced price or free lunches.
RAMP works to educate community, schools and children about the importance of healthy eating through school assemblies, classroom activities and small groups, and provides school-age children with take-home educational materials, food and beverages
They also mentor moms on nutrition, healthy eating, meal planning and shopping, and conduct nutrition education programs with adults in the community.
Whole Foods works with RAMP to help implement gardens and salad bars in school.
“We have installed salad bars in all six of Martin County’s public schools, and there are now school gardens at four schools,” Guerrieri said.
In addition, RAMP coordinates periodic food drives to sustain the community food pantries and the school Backpack Snack Program, which works within the public school system in Kentucky to provide the neediest children with food to take home for the weekend
The Backpack Snack Program serves over 120 students in six Martin County public schools by providing nutritious, easy to prepare food and produce to those children who have little or no access to food on weekends. The children finish the school week two Fridays of each month with a backpack of food to bring home. This ensures that they have something nutritious to eat before returning to school the following Monday.
RAMP also holds Family Fun & Food Nights and educational programs on the school level to bring parents,educators and students together in a fun environment that fosters nutrition education, food fun and cooking,
A food pantry was opened in 2009, which serves more than 150 families in the Inez area. RAMP supports the food pantry by providing nonperishable healthy food, fresh produce, household items, baby products, cleaning and personal hygiene items. RAMP re-vamped the offerings and stocks the food pantry with only nutritious food – no junk food or soda.
Another goal of RAMP is to help local residents create an income generating food business, such as canning of local produce, that can then be marketed and sold to other local residents and a broader market.
Working toward that end, the group helps build community gardens throughout Martin County, both on private property and at schools, to help residents grow their own produce and provides chickens and chicken coops to the community to help increase sustainability of daily food needs.
RAMP also works to break the cycle of poverty by providing micro-loans to people who want to start their own business.
The loans, up to $3,000, are given to qualified local entrepreneurs interested in starting a business or expanding on a current enterprise. RAMP’s first micro-loan was awarded to Betty Harris for her Calf Creek Creations - a quilting and sewing enterprise that is making beautiful Appalachian products such as aprons and quilts that are being sold at select Whole Foods Market stores in the mid-Atlantic region and will soon be available online.
This year, RAMP is holding a contest at Spring Fling with the best small business idea moving forward in the micro-loan process. Local residents are encouraged to be prepared to “pitch” their ideas at the Spring Fling.
Jennifer Howard, spokesperson for RAMP, invites families to attend the Spring Fling, enjoy great food and meet their neighbors. Local bands and performers will be supplying entertainment. Those who wish to attend are encouraged to reserve their spot in advance at www.RAMPAmerica.org. RAMP is also on Facebook, twitter and youtube.