JOPLIN, Mo. — The Joplin Empire Market was one of many area businesses open on Christmas Eve. This time next year — much sooner than that, really — the market will look a whole lot different.

“We currently can only offer cold food items in a limited amount. We are hoping to expand that,” said Lindsay Gagnon, Empire Market Director.

The Downtown Joplin Alliance is hoping to combat food insecurity by expanding the Joplin Empire Market’s free kids meal program.

“We actually just started that during Covid in 2020 — as a response to school closures. We realized that a lot of kids rely on those regular weekly meals from school. Although its just one day a week that we can provide a free meal we thought that that would help and make a difference,” said Gagnon.

The market received a $45,000 matching grant from the Missouri Department of Agriculture. The grant will help them build a commercial kitchen inside the current classroom space and ADA accessible bathrooms.

“It will have commercial grade sinks, stoves, refrigerator, freezer spaces obviously. We are finalizing some of the specifics of the equipment,” said Gagnon.

Every Saturday, the market offers around 40 free kids meals — and hopes to double that by building a new kitchen.

“We are actually located in a low to moderate income area and then also a food desert,” said Gagnon.

The expansion will cost a total of $350,000. They’re hoping to raise $100,000 to take advantage of matching grants.

“If we could get to a point where we are actually able to cook hot meals or prepare the meals that way that would be great,” said Gagnon.