Friday, October 25, 2013
Three years ago, then-13-year-old Katie Stagliano of Summerville and a small group of her 6th grade friends gathered in the recently closed kitchen of the Palmetto House to cook dinner for the homeless and the hungry.
“We used to go there all the time and drop off produce. We’d just been there three days before, and all of a sudden [the kitchen] was closed,” said Stacy Stagliano, Katie’s mom.
“All Katie could say was ‘What’s going to happen to all of those people?’”
Stagliano said the staff gently explained to her daughter that while the Palmetto House is still open, they would no longer serve community meals to the public.
“Katie asked ‘What if we came over and we cooked?’ and it just kind of blossomed from there,” she said.
Katie and her classmates started a tradition that day. The third anniversary of the Katie’s Krops Dinners was held Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. in Summerville Baptist Church’s Fellowship Hall.
Katie founded the nonprofit organization, Kaite’s Krops, after she grew a 40 lb. cabbage when she was 9 years old, donated it to Tricounty Family Ministries in North Charleston, and watched it feed more than 200 people.
Originally, Katie’s gardens grew vegetables that were donated to food pantries and soup kitchens, but after watching the Palmetto House kitchen close, the group of children gardeners took a more hands-on approach.
From that point forward, Katie’s Krops has put on a dinner one or sometimes two times a month at Summerville Baptist Church for anyone who needs it.
The free meals are cooked and served by the children who help grow the produce in Katie’s gardens around town.
Katie said last year the organization held 14 dinners in the Lowcountry and served a total of 1,938 people. They served 40 people at their first dinner, but the group has served as many as 125 people at one event.
“We never know how many people we’re going to serve at an event, but somehow it all just works in the kitchen,” said Stagliano with a laugh.
She said that’s been one of her favorite parts of working with her daughter and the other children involved with Katie’s Krops.
“It’s been amazing to see how these kids have turned something as serious as hunger into a fun and wonderful time,” she said.
Most of the children involved with Katie’s Krops are Katie’s classmates at Pinewood Preparatory School. The organization’s flagship garden is planted there and Stagliano said the school has embraced the program so much the students now work in the garden as part of their physical education classes.
In fact, so many children are inspired by the project that according to Stagliano, they have to turn away kid volunteers.
To successfully run a dinner, each event requires between eight and 10 volunteers, Katie said.
The anniversary dinner, however, was a large event and 18 young volunteers came in to work it.
The “crew,” as they call them, have all worked in the gardens before they make it into the kitchen where Herman McNeill, the head chef at Pinewood, supervises the cooking.
“At first Mr. McNeill was telling us exactly what to do and showing us how to do things,” Kaite said. “Slowly but surely he’s taught us how to do everything so now he really just watches.”
Stagliano continued, “Herman is the heart and soul of that kitchen. He’s really empowered those kids.”
Each dinner menu is first based on what in-season produce is growing in the garden, and later completed after shopping sales at local grocery stores.
The menu for the anniversary dinner followed the same pattern; they served chicken, sweet potatoes, a green salad and peppers and onions to guests.
“Everything came out of the garden except for the chicken,” said Joan Wood, a board member at the Palmetto House and a member of Katie’s crew.
The anniversary dinner also had a children’s book giveaway and a cake walk (a game blending musical chairs and bingo, in which the winner receives a cake).
Around 180 guests attended Tuesday’s dinner, but Stagliano said the group was expecting a large turnout.
The organization invited many guests who’ve been involved with Katie’s Krops to celebrate the community effort of feeding the area’s hungry.
“It may have started as Katie’s idea,” she said, “but it’s really blossomed to be something everyone in this community can be proud of because everyone has had a part in it.”
The next Katie’s Krops dinner will be held Nov. 21 at Summerville Baptist Church. For more information, visit www.katieskrops.com.