Rainbow continues to shine for hungry

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 9:38 p.m.

An online contest has enabled a Homestead nonprofit to continue feeding children in struggling families despite cuts to public funding.

Rainbow Kitchen lost half its funding when statewide cuts to social services forced the Allegheny County Department of Human Services in March to pull a $53,000 grant. Yet its Kids Cafe program wasn't disrupted, thanks to a $45,000 grant through a Starbucks program called "Community Card: Vote. Give. Grow."

"They had to make a hard decision. We know it was not something they wanted to do," Donna Little, Rainbow Kitchen's executive director, said of the county's action. "We were pretty devastated. We're feeding kids. Some of them go to bed hungry."

Around the same time, Little found out about the Starbucks program.

During April, Rainbow Kitchen competed against three other Pennsylvania nonprofits in the online contest. Starbucks chose "nonprofit organizations that are already doing great work to help solve the unique needs of their communities" in each state for the competition, according to the contest site.

For four weeks, supporters could vote for their favorite organization; the group garnering the most votes won the highest amount. Rainbow Kitchen beat out DonorsChoice.org, which received $25,000; Jumpstart for Young Children, which got $15,000; and Opportunity Finance Network, which received $15,000.

Rainbow Kitchen provides children with balanced meals on weekdays all year, and delivers to summer camps and low-income housing complexes. It serves families, elderly and disabled individuals, and those who are homeless, unemployed or underemployed.

The Kitchen helps feed 535 households a month -- a number that has doubled over the past two years. "We are seeing a lot of new faces," Little said.

In addition to food assistance, the Kitchen offers people help with immediate or crisis needs, case management and other services. Its annual budget is $370,000.

Winning the Starbucks contest allows the Kitchen to continue Kids Cafe "with no reduction in services," Little said.

That's good news for Courtney Melvin, 23, of West Mifflin. She receives meals daily for her son, Shaiqur, 1.

"It's very good food," she said. "Where I live, there are a lot of kids not getting a good meal at home. They really do help the kids."

Most people served by Rainbow Kitchen live in Homestead, West Homestead or Munhall. Among the 18,000 people living in those areas, 35 percent of families with children live at or below poverty level, according to Rainbow Kitchen. Half of households rely on Social Security or Supplemental Security Income.

Rainbow Kitchen sponsors a monthly food pantry, offering donated canned and dry goods to families from a grocery store in the building's basement.

"I really think it's good that someone cares," said Jayla Smith, 27, of Homestead, while shopping at the pantry with her three children. "They do a really good job. I'm glad it's available."

How to help

Rainbow Kitchen is at 135 E. Ninth Ave., Homestead. To volunteer or donate food or money, call 412-464-1892 or visit www.rainbowkitchen.org.<

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