Kids Meals Inc., the Garden Oaks-based nonprofit that delivers meals to preschool-age children across the Greater Houston area, has embarked on a capital campaign to raise money for a new, larger facility to meet a growing demand for assistance.

The nonprofit has delivered more than 8 million meals to children in 42 Houston-area ZIP codes since its founding in 2006, CEO Beth Harp said. After the coronavirus pandemic resulted in lost jobs and closed businesses across the city, Harp said the number of meals delivered daily increased by 136% in less than a month.

Today, the group serves more than 7,000 meals per day, but Harp estimates that total makes up only 10% of the children in Houston who need help.

"Unfortunately, there is heightened food insecurity in our city right now," she said. "A lot of it has always been there."

With the help of more than 150 volunteers each day, the nonprofit prepares fresh meals, shelf-stable meals and grocery bags that are sent out via a fleet of vans that travel routes all over the city, Harp said. The operation model is unlike that of any other nonprofit in the U.S., she said.

"We are bringing the meals directly to them, and that allows us to take our services deeper," Harp said. "Our drivers get to know our families. They understand what other needs they have. We want to be that lifeline to help be a navigator for services for our families."

In addition to delivering food, Kids Meals has built a strong referral network to connect families to social services and other nonprofits based on their needs, including utility assistance, job training, classes for English learners and mental health services, Harp said.

The capital campaign—dubbed Building Hope—seeks to raise around $15 million-$20 million with the goal of using that money to build a 50,000-square-foot facility on 4-6 acres at a location that is still to be determined, though Harp said she hopes to keep the headquarters in the Heights area or somewhere central to the many locations they serve.

Kids Meals currently operates out of an 18,500-square-foot facility that it leases on Garden Oaks Boulevard. Harp said the new facility would be "purpose built" to facilitate the long-term goal of being able to provide meals and services to all families in need in the Greater Houston area. By 2031, she said she hopes to be serving meals to 25,000 children per day.

The new facility would provide a vital boost in space for both food preparation and food storage, Harp said, both of which are maxed out at the current building.

"It’s been wonderful, but we are busting at the seams," she said. "There’s barely a corner that is not filled. We desperately need more space to even continue serving the kids we’re serving right now."

The new building would also provide meeting and office space for the nonprofit's 30 staff members, Harp said. Plans could also include space for partner organizations to meet clients and host classes on-site. For partner organizations that are closely tied to the mission of Kids Meals—such as Life Houston, which provides formula and diapers for babies—office spaces could be provided on-site so clients can also meet with those organizations when they come in for help, Harp said.

The capital campaign will be chaired by Group 1 Automotive President and CEO Earl Hesterberg and his wife, Susan Hesterberg, according to a June 3 press release.

Earl has built dealerships all over the world, so to have that kind of expertise on our team is just incredible," Harp said.

Donations can be made to the capital campaign or to help fund Kids Meals regular operations on the group's website. The nonprofit is also looking for volunteers to help in the kitchen and warehouses starting in July, Harp said. People can also volunteer from home, including by decorating bags before they are delivered to children, she said.

One week into the campaign, Harp said things are off to a good start, including a $1 million gift from a donor who asked to remain anonymous.

"We can feed a child for less than $2 a day, so anybody at any level that wants to contribute makes a difference," Harp said. "This could really help change the face of what poverty is in our city."