LIBERAL, Mo. — We continue our spotlight on the remarkable women of the Four States. The focus is in Liberal where a resident met a hungry young boy and started an effort that would turn into thousands of meals a year.
Kathy Miller, The Fifteen Percent, said, “We see these 3 kids walking down Main Street. Pretty thin and I told my husband you’ve got to pull over so I said to him, are you hungry and he said, ‘Yes – and I said, ‘You have any food? No.”
Kathy Miller gave them the groceries she’d just bought, told him where she lived and that she would start feeding him. Then she went home and cried.
“I thought, that little boy is in my back yard, this is my community, this is my neighborhood and he’s hungry.”
And he started showing up at Kathy’s house, bringing along others in need.
“People started calling us saying there’s some children here that need food, even the school would call us.”
The unofficial meal service grew quickly, expanding to include senior citizens in Liberal.
“Asked me if they could buy a meal from me because she was in her upper 80s, arthritis was bad – I said absolutely not but I’ll bring you a meal.”
140 people were getting meals three nights a week thanks to Kathy and her husband Keith. They named the project The Fifteen Percent – after the estimated 15% of Missouri’s population with food insecurity. At first, they were on their own.
“You can imagine how much it cost to feed 140 people 3 nights a week.”
But support started rolling in. First Walmart in Lamar gave them $3,500, helping to move meal prep out of their kitchen into its own building in the backyard.
“Then right after that Walmart, corporate, we want to give you $10,000. That’s our entire food budget for a year.”
The next year they won a national contest through Brawny paper towels, netting another $10,000. Signing up with Ozarks Food Harvest is also helping to make those dollars count.
“I think last month I got 800 pounds for less than $50.”
And more and more volunteers starting pitching in.
That includes helping with meal assembly and deliveries, but also projects like building the front steps and installing flooring. There’s also a supportive boss who gives Kathy flexible hours on the days she serves meals. Which allows her to focus on what she loves, the cooking.
“Skillet tacos, that’s their favorite, spaghetti, chili – things that will feed a lot of people.”
She considers The Fifteen Percent a blessing, something that reaches back to a time when she was young and food insecure.
“I know what I wished, what I hoped for, what I prayed for, and that day when I saw that little boy I still can’t say this without crying – it was my opportunity to be that for someone.”
Kathy has no idea how much time and effort she’s put into The Fifteen Percent. She says it all about the kids.
“You can’t get tired when they just keep dropping that into your soul.”