Kimberly Pucci is a hard working mother of two who takes time daily to prepare meals for her children with fresh ingredients.
Her eight-year-old daughter, Alina and three-year-old son, Niccolo share in the prep work and Kimberly says it’s a great time to connect and talk about nutrition. The family tends the garden together and works to make the tomatoes last through the winter by canning her husband Allessio’s family recipes for sauce.
When children from the neighborhood came to play with her daughter, she realized quickly that not only were they not accustomed to eating fresh food and sitting down at a table for meal together, but that they were also regularly hungry. Kim soon discovered that the stresses of the economy were affecting this family with small children and she was compelled to help in a positive impacting way. The idea was simple, “How can a child learn to read if they are hungry?” This is something her father would say as a special education teacher who brought a loaf of bread and cheese with him to class each day for the children who did not eat breakfast.
Kimberly wanted to do more than feed, she wanted to inform families that eating fresh food could be inexpensively obtained, quick to prepare, nutritious and very satisfying. She sought the help of Child & Family who suggested a partnership with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Newport because its facility has an industrial-sized kitchen and accessible food pantry. After her tour of the MLK Community Center, an idea was conceived to invite families from these two organizations to sit down at a table and experience a dinner like those she enjoys with her family. It quickly came together and the organizations began by hosting three to four families to a four course meal one night each month.
Kimberly wanted them to feel special and not preached to, so a dinner table was set to accommodate 20 guests with linens, plates, glasses, flatware and menu cards, too! Through conversation, Kimberly discovered that “going out to dinner” for some families was fast food and only when there was free incentive to go. She endeavored to create a “dining out experience” for her guests by having them relax and enjoy family time while she made each dish and what ingredients were used (much of which was obtained from the shelves of the food pantry at the MLK Community Center). She mentions that participants of the SNAP program can buy double their food redemption points when buying fresh produce at local markets.
Pasta, veggies, proteins are all the base of a Mediterranean Diet and she adds, “It’s a very healthy, low cost and fast way to keep a family thriving.” The menu always changes, however, one night the families started with Bruschetta with San Marzano Tomatoes & Basil, follwed by the first course of Nonna Alina’s Lasagna, a second course of Caesar Salad with Fresh Parmesan Shavings and Dark Chocolate Brownies for dessert. Afterwards Kimberly was happy to hear from Child & Family and the MLK Community Center staff that children were asking to be invited for the next dinner. Mothers commented that their children wouldn’t eat meat before they tasted her lightly breaded baked chicken. She always serves second helpings and sends leftovers home along with a shopping bag of groceries to recreate the meal together.
She hopes to increase the number of families served, create recipe books for future meals and says a nutritionist will join her to help continue the education of affordable balanced nutrition. She asks that more people volunteer their time and hopes the idea will spread, “It is about giving a hand up…not a hand out. How can a child grow and learn if he or she is hungry? How can a parent work if he or she does not have the fuel to keep going?”