Children who go without food miss the nutrients, minerals and vitamins their bodies need to grow and develop. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), hungry children suffer from two to four times as many individual health problems such as unwanted weight loss, fatigue, headaches, irritability, inability to concentrate and frequent colds. School-aged children who are hungry cannot concentrate or do as well as others on the tasks they need to perform to learn the basics.
In our own community, hunger is a daily part of the lives of many children. Almost 88% of students in the Unified School District 500 in Kansas City, KS were eligible for free and reduced lunch in the 2010-2011 school year. (Wyandotte County 2011 Community Needs Assessment – Commissioned by EOF and United Way of Wyandotte County.) The problem is intensified by an incredible rise in homelessness. During the 2010-2011 school year there were 1,400 homeless students in the District- that’s up from 1,000 the previous school year. The average age of homelessness in KCK is 7 years. About 50 of these children are in each elementary school and many of them are served by the BackSnack program.
As a Community Partner, we pack food and deliver food every Friday to needy children. The food is provided by Harvesters (www.harvesters.org) and they carefully document the effect it has on the lives of these children. During the 2010-2011 school year, we distributed 1600 bags of food to 25 schools in Kansas City, KS, Shawnee Mission, KS and Kansas City, MO. Typically we pack on Thursday nights. If the children do not have school on Friday, we adjust our schedule accordingly. Anyone can volunteer! We believe that the backpack program is an excellent family activity and encourage children to join in. This is a wonderful teaching opportunity an can be a fun time for parents and children to work together in a truly meaningful way. “What happens to these children during the summer?” is probably the question we hear most often. During the 2011 summer season, we were honored to work with Harvesters to get food into the community for needy children. In addition, we collected food donations to help fill in the gap and delivered them through schools, community organizations and an apartment complex. On the top of the “wish list” from the office of the Homeless Liaison in the KCK school district is a “family pack” containing food and toiletries that would go home with selected children on Fridays. We are working toward partnering with area organizations to help make this happen.