Two women wearing face masks hold onto a glass trophy over a wooden sign reading: Welcome to Soup for the Soul

Kentucky Board of Education member Holly Bloodworth, left, hands the 2020 Kevin C. Brown Strategic Priority Award to Soup for the Soul program coordinator Olivia Robison. Soup for the Soul, a nonprofit group feeding families in Murray, coordinates the collaboration of donors, stores, restaurants, churches and individual volunteers that stepped up to help keep families fed after school buildings closed due to COVID-19.
Photo by Holly Bloodworth

Soup for the Soul, a nonprofit group feeding families in Murray, is the winner of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) 2020 Kevin C. Brown Strategic Priority Award.

The award was presented during the KBE virtual meeting on Feb. 3.

“I just think it’s amazing. I think a lot of the nonprofits that make a lot of the magic happen aren’t always rewarded with an award,” said Noraa Ransey, who nominated the group. Ransey is a 1st-grade teacher at North Calloway Elementary (Calloway County) and co-chair of Soup for the Soul.

While Soup for the Soul leads the effort to feed families, it’s a collaboration between donors, stores, restaurants, churches and individual volunteers, she said.

“It really is our whole community that comes together,” Ransey said.

Soup for the Soul program coordinator Olivia Robison said it is a great honor for the group to win the award.

“Receiving this award further validates the positive impact it has on the children and families in our community,” she said. “My hope after receiving this award is that it will bring awareness to the food insecurity issues in our area and make others aware of the resources that are available.

“I want our community to know that Soup for the Soul and the Summer Lunch and Literacy Program are available to any who are hungry, and we are more than happy to help in any way that we can. That is what we are here for.”

For five years, North Calloway Elementary has had teams that cooked and served food on alternating Fridays. A quarter of children in the school district are food insecure.

“We have a lot of our families that come through and get a hot meal,” Ransey said.

Soup for the Soul’s summertime “Lunch and Literacy” program, done in partnership with the Murray Independent School District, provided families in need with a backpack of food and a book, twice a week.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the program was encouraged to shut down, as schools did on March 13, 2020, Ransey said. But she knew the children needed it, so she worked with Robison to not only continue, but expand.

Soup for the Soul cut its offerings to once a week, but began making full meals instead of just snacks. A widows’ group from a local church volunteered to pack the meals, and many teachers volunteered to help, too, Ransey said. The group worked with the local family resource center to find families in need and made no-contact deliveries.

One woman and two men stand behind a group of garbage bags filled with food.

Soup for the Soul program manager Olivia Robison, left, and two volunteers pose with bags full of ready-to-serve hot meals distributed by Soup for the Soul to Calloway County families.
Photo submitted

“We had more routes, more food, more families. Last year we had 125, this year we had more than 300,” Ransey said. “We’re already writing our budget for this summer and it looks very much like last summer.”

Robison said everyone involved knew the community would need extra encouragement and help during COVID-19, even as Soup for the Soul’s task became harder.

“It was incredible to see a village of teachers, volunteers, and local businesses come together to ensure that we were able to supply and deliver the meals and books to these kids, even in spite of strict COVID regulations,” she said. “Our summer program has always been one of my favorite parts about working for Soup for the Soul and the very reason I came on staff in the first place.”

She said the volunteers don’t work for thanks, but they rarely receive enough appreciation, and the award will make them feel special and demonstrate to their clients and children in Calloway County that they aren’t being overlooked.

The award is named for Kevin C. Brown, general counsel for Jefferson County Public Schools, who has filled several prominent roles at the Kentucky Department of Education. Most recently he served as interim commissioner of education from December 2019 to September 2020.

“Soup for the Soul is a perfect example of how it takes everyone in a community to support student well-being,” Brown said. “A year ago we had no idea what was in store for us as a state and a nation. Soup for the Soul exemplifies the notion that caring people willing to volunteer their time, talents and funds are sometimes the best strategies we have to solve issues affecting our communities.”

The annual award recognizes a person, group, organization, district, school or postsecondary institution who, through policy, practice, fundraising or philanthropy, and despite any challenges, has made it a top priority to provide for the well-being of Kentucky’s students and to provide them with high-quality educational experiences.