At the end of September and into early October, The Brain Kitchen, a Marion-based, non-profit organization that works with children in an afterschool setting, was selected as a Top 200 finalist in State Farm’s Neighborhood Assist program.
Each year, the State Farm Neighborhood Assist program doles out $1,000,000 to 40 deserving organizations out of a pool of 200, each of whom receive a $25,000 grant.
Due to the tireless efforts of Marion State Farm Agent Nick McKinley, his team, and the city of Marion, The Brain Kitchen ended the initiative as a top-40 finalist, and was awarded a $25,000 check in a special ceremony at Allen Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon.
“What I love about it is you have a local business that has set an idea that, ‘I can make my community better,’” Indiana District 31 Representative Ann Vermilion said. “[Nick] and all the employees at State Farm knew that if we got this, it would impact children in our community. [This grant] is such a wonderful asset to the Brain Kitchen and to Marion Community Schools. This is just a win-win, and gosh knows that we need these positive stories.”
During the finalist selection process, McKinley encouraged the Marion community to vote, primarily through Facebook, for such a worthy organization like The Brain Kitchen, and the Marion community certainly stepped up to the plate.
“It feels fantastic to know that the community came together, put these votes in, and now, the Brain Kitchen gets $25,000 simply because the community decided to vote online,” McKinley said. “It was that simple. A couple of extra votes online put us over the edge to get this $25,000 grant. I’m ecstatic for the Brain Kitchen, because this $25,000 is going to do a lot for them.”
Founded in 2016 by Gary Herrington and Amanda Drury, The Brain Kitchen is held two days a week, Thursday and Friday, in the Jay House, a building owned by the Marion Public Library, which sits in the corner of the library parking lot.
The Jay House is sectioned into three unique functional areas: movement, activities, kitchen. In the movement room, kids are engaged in a variety of activities to promote active brains and bodies. In the room, students read or receive help with their homework. In the kitchen, students are taught about food preparation, how to use kitchen tools like a can opener, and basic cooking skills.
“It’s incredibly humbling,” Drury said. “When this was first brought to my attention, it seemed like a pipe dream. I really didn’t think anything would come of it. But then we just kept getting further and further in the process. Then, when we made it in the top 200, the first time I checked, we were at 140…but the community really just came around us. It’s overwhelming and humbling to think of all the people that have worked together to get us to this place.”
With the grant money now firmly in their possession, Drury and the Brain Kitchen plan invest not only in themselves, but in Allen Elementary School as well.
“It means everything to the kids and the families that are participating in the program,” Indiana State Senator Andy Zay said. “The important thing is getting that sense of collaboration. Government, even in schools, can only go so far, so to have the ability for a non-profit to come and collaborate and work in the schools and work on other programs outside of academics, which is what the Brain Kitchen does, that’s just a great opportunity.”
In the near future, Drury is looking to purchase what’s called a Kitchen Ala Carte, which is a portable, demonstration kitchen that can serve up to 10 kids at a time.
“Even though we can only take 15 kids into the Brain Kitchen, we can now bring the Brain Kitchen to them,” Drury said. “Almost like a Brain Kitchen to go. This portable kitchen can go from classroom to classroom, which will expand some of our programming that way, but then the school can also use this Kitchen Ala Carte for science curriculum and things like that.”
While McKinley did much of the yeoman’s work to help put The Brain Kitchen on the map, he thanked the Marion community for coming together to make this possible.
“The City of Marion takes these initiatives seriously,” McKinley said. “They love the non-profits in our community enough that they would vote for the Brain Kitchen. Even the other non-profits that could have possibly been in this process were championing the work for the Brain Kitchen to get these votes.
“It’s an amazing thing. We are one of 40 grants in the entire country. To know we are one of 40 out of 10,000 applications, it puts Marion on the map again.”