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Bad Choices. No Choices. Food Insecurity

University of Missouri Kansas City

Bad Choices. No Choices. Food Insecurity

University of Missouri Kansas City

How can we ensure reliable access to affordable, healthy, fresh food?

Our panelists talked about the causes of and actions against “food insecurity,” a term that describes a state in which either due to lack of money or other resources, constant access to sufficient food is limited at times during the year.

Watch the event video and view photos below!


Mary K. Hendrickson is a rural sociologist who has been working in community food systems for 15 years. She is an important voice in the robust discussion among scholars, policy-makers and citizens about the positive and negative implications of food system changes for farmers, rural communities, the overall environment, and for the health of our population. Her scholarship focuses on the social and economic organization of different types of food systems, the social, ecological and economic impacts of that organization, and options for changing how we organize the food system.

Hendrickson spent 15 years working to create local food systems in the state of Missouri through University of Missouri Extension, where she gained valuable on-the-ground experience in transforming food systems. She worked extensively with community groups to increase the amount of fresh, flavorful and nutritious food available by providing technical assistance on marketing, business planning, feasibility studies, policy, food safety, and consumer preferences to farmers and community groups.

She studied the Kansas City Food Circle in its early stages, helped write grants for cooperatives, and was involved in the creation of the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition. In 2012, Hendrickson moved to research and teaching full time. She currently serves as the Undergraduate Advisor Chair in Sustainable Agriculture and teaches courses on sustainable food and farming systems at MU. She also serves as a technical advisor for the Missouri Convergence Partnership.

Beau Heyen, joined NourishKC, formerly known as Episcopal Community Services (ECS), in August 2015, Beau was instrumental in bringing the “Dining with Dignity” restaurant-service model to the Kansas City Community Kitchen. Now featured on the Kansas City Star, Upworthy, The Huffington Post, UK-based Global Citizen, NowThis Media, Christian Science Monitor and NBC Nightly News, ECS’ mission focuses on Feeding the Hungry – Changing Lives.

Through his role as president and CEO of NourishKC, Beau has brought record growth and innovation in anti-poverty services and hunger relief to the Kansas City region. A graduate of Northwest Missouri State University, he earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a master degree in educational guidance and counseling. Beau also received a Master of Theological Studies degree from Perkins School of Theology on the campus of Southern Methodist University.

Prior to joining the organization, Beau led community mobilization at the Food Bank For New York City, including leading a national public awareness campaign to protect funding for SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) with strong support from Feeding America, Kevin Bacon, Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain and anti-hunger organizations across the country. He also served as chief operations officer and chief development officer for Masbia, a network of kosher soup kitchens and food pantries that provided over 1.5 million meals to New Yorkers in 2014.

Additionally, Beau served as public relations director for the West Houston Assistance Ministries, an ecumenical agency providing support to children, families and individuals who are homeless or in crisis. He also served as minister for youth and spiritual formation for Dallas-based Cathedral of Hope, a large United Church of Christ congregation with locations in Houston and Oklahoma City and a strong LGBTQ+ following. From 2004-07, he worked in the Kansas City area as a school counselor and was a member of the Heartland Men’s Chorus.

Lillian MacNell is an Assistant Professor of Public Health at Campbell University. Her research focuses on how hunger and food insecurity affect health and wellbeing. In her research, she employs spatial analyses and a mixed-methods approach to better understand how people navigate their food environments and experience poor food access. She is especially interested in how local expertise in rural areas can help local organizations best address their communities’ needs. She is currently working with the Campbell University Mustard Seed Community Garden to assess how intergenerational connections between students and older adults can improve food security. In addition, she is continuing work sponsored by the Tufts/UConn RIDGE Center for Targeted Studies that considers the weekly travel patterns of low-income, food insecure mothers and how this relates to food shopping behaviors.

Valerie Nicholson-Watson is the President and CEO of Harvesters—The Community Food Network, the regional Feeding America food bank serving 26 counties in northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas. Valerie joined Harvesters in this capacity in 2013, but had previously worked as Harvesters’ director of community services, responsible for the food bank’s advocacy, communications, nutrition services and volunteer program from 1999-2004. She served on the Harvesters’ board of directors from 2007 to 2013.

Prior to joining Harvesters, Valerie was a leader in the local nonprofit community as the president and chief executive officer of the Niles Home for Children. The Niles Home provides residential and day services for children ages 6-17, who have been traumatized by abuse, neglect or abandonment. The agency in 2008 was one of two agencies nationwide awarded the “Innovative Practices” Award from the Council on Accreditation (COA) for its Hip Health initiative.

She also has held communications positions at Gateway, Inc., and the Kansas City, Mo., School District and worked as a journalist for the Kansas City Globe and The Kansas City Call.

Valerie currently serves as treasurer of the board for Nonprofit Connect. She is a board member and past chairperson for Kansas City Metro CARES Mentoring Movement, part of a national effort to increase the number of African-American mentors. She is also a member of the US Bank Advisory Board. Previously, she served as treasurer of the Missouri Coalition of Children’s Agencies (MCCA), served on the board of the Guadalupe Centers, Inc., and has been active with the Heart of America United Way Campaign. In 2015, she was recognized as a “Black Woman of Distinction” from Friends of Yates, Inc. She received the Nefertiti Award from the Societas Docta, Incorporated in 2014. Valerie was recognized for her volunteer service with a 2013 President’s Volunteer Service Award, and by the 100 Black Men of Kansas City with their 2012 Health and Wellness Award. She was named by the Kansas City Globe as one of the 100 Most Influential African-Americans in Greater Kansas City.

Nicholson-Watson has a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia and an MBA from Webster University. She lives in Lee’s Summit, Mo., with her husband, Mark Watson. They have two sons and are the proud grandparents of three grandsons.


Gretchen H. Kunkel has guided KC Healthy Kids as the organization’s president since 2008. She joined KCHK as a consultant at its inception in 2004. KC Healthy Kids advances community solutions to reduce childhood obesity in Greater Kansas City. During her tenure, KC Healthy Kids became one of 50 national grantees for the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation’s landmark initiative on childhood obesity; launched the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition; co-founded Building a Healthier Heartland; advanced numerous policy and environmental changes positively impacting healthier lifestyles in Kansas City; and hosted educational forums on aspects of healthy eating and active living.

Gretchen has nearly 20 years of experience addressing health care, public health and children’s health issues through advocacy, research, business development and strategic planning. She serves on a number of regional, statewide and national organizations and coalitions addressing adult and childhood obesity, community development, food system and food insecurity issues. Prior to leading KC Healthy Kids, Gretchen served as associate executive director for the Center for Community Solutions, a research and advocacy nonprofit organization, and the director of community health services for the Center for Health Affairs, a metropolitan hospital association, both located in Cleveland, Ohio.

She is also president of GHK Consulting. Gretchen earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Kansas and a master’s degrees in health administration and business administration from the University of Pittsburgh.

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