“What I’d like for people to know is that healthy food access is not an unsolvable problem. It’s not unsurmountable, but it does take people to roll up their sleeves and get creative together.”
Shanita McAfee-Bryant, a Harvesters’ Board member since 2022, is using her passion for cooking to build a business, help others and give back to the community.
McAfee-Bryant is a former teen single mother-turned-chef and restauranteur who earned a culinary degree at Johnson County Community College and won the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen.
In 2019 she founded The Prospect KC, a groundbreaking social enterprise with initiatives addressing culinary job training, food access and nutritional literacy.
The organization includes, The Spot, a 1,200-square-foot café and coffeeshop with a fresh market section located at 2010 Vine St. in the 18th & Vine Jazz District that serves as a training ground for culinary students who qualify but cannot afford the $10,000 per student tuition, a cost underwritten by funders.
In the summer of 2023, after weathering the pandemic and construction delays, The Spot opened to the public serving up a healthy menu that includes a variety of coffee drinks, pastries, baked goods and sandwiches from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
As a member of Harvesters’ Board, McAfee-Bryant sees her role as helping to connect the dots when it comes to food access on Kansas City’s Eastside.
“Harvesters is a big organization and understandably lives by its strategic plan, but that means sometimes it’s hard to connect. We are part of the food ecosystem, and I do believe the value of my contribution and informed perspective at ground level is valuable,” she says.
Changing lives one student at a time
When a customer orders The Spot Burger, Chef Terrion gets busy flame-broiling the patty. He melts blue cheese crumbles over the top and uses a spatula to move the patty to the bun before dressing it with collard green slaw and a swipe of bacon jam.
“A year ago, I didn’t have a job. I just mainly sat in my room and played video games. Just eat sleep, play video games! That’s all I did for a good year, until I got tired of it and decided to find myself a job,” says the 20-year-old culinary student.
Making the difficult transition from the foster care system while mourning his mother’s death from addiction, Chef Terrion was referred to The Prospect KC’s 16-week job training program by his caseworker.
He has learned culinary skills ranging from chopping to grilling and restaurant-related tasks such as washing dishes and running the register, but perhaps more importantly the training program has helped him grow in confidence and discipline.
“Learning how to cook for yourself is like the most basic thing you need you to have for survival,” he says.
With new skills and confidence, Chef Terrion recently graduated with the first cohort of culinary students but continues to hone his skills as a paid employee.
“It’s a safe environment around here.” he says. “Everybody here is really friendly, and they really do care about you.”
For the graduation dinner, Chef Terrion paid tribute to his late mother with the Korean dish yukgaejang — brisket, mushrooms and onions in a spicy tomato broth.
His caseworker and guardians were in the audience to cheer him on.
“First, I wanted to see people smile,” he says. “Second thing, it was a memory that I wanted to bring back. It brought me so much joy that people were enjoying it.”
All of us can make an impact
In honor of Black History Month, McAfee-Bryant encourages people to get off the sidelines and take action.
“What I’d like for people to know is that healthy food access is not an unsolvable problem. It’s not unsurmountable, but it does take people to roll up their sleeves and get creative together, which is why I’m also on the board of Nourish KC and Lazarus Ministries, and I work with Kanbe’s, After the Harvest and Pete’s Garden. We all have a role to play,” she says.
Supporting neighbors in need can be as simple as volunteering at the Harvesters warehouse to pack food for distribution by local food pantries or stopping by The Spot to grab a coffee, pastry or sandwich.
To encourage small but steady giving, The Prospect recently created Coffee For A Cause Community, a micro-giving opportunity starting at $10 a month designed to connect members to students, events, volunteer opportunities and more.
“It takes all of us, and no action is too small,” she says.