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‘More kids . . . than we thought’ in need of summer outreach

This article was originally posted on The Leaven and written by Ken Williams, President & CEO, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.

Bobby is in the fifth grade. He studies hard to make good grades and dreams of becoming a policeman. Bobby likes school. He likes his teachers.

And he likes that, during the week, he isn’t hungry. While most kids are looking forward to summer vacation, Bobby wonders if he’ll have enough to eat. For Bobby, summer vacation is anything but.

Nearly half the school-aged children in our archdiocese qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The good news is, throughout the school year, these children are provided at least one hearty, nutritious meal during the week. The bad news is, when school lets out for the summer, these same children lose access to that meal. The reality is, they are going hungry over summer break.

By definition, these families are food insecure — meaning they struggle just to put food on the table. While food insecurity is devastating to all, the lack of proper nutrition is most critical for children. Food insecurity has been linked to nutrient deficiencies that lead to learning and development problems, including low school achievement, emotional problems and poor health.

Last summer, in an effort to address this need in our own backyard, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas combined our strengths with Harvesters, the USDA and the Kansas Department of Education to launch the Kids Summer Food Program. This program provides kids meals during the summer when school lunches are not available.

In the first summer, Catholic Charities operated 11 sites in six counties across the archdiocese. With the support of 11 Catholic parishes, along with several other churches and community organizations, we were able to serve over 5,000 meals to hungry children.

Two of these food sites — located in Marysville — were able to operate five days a week with the help of local volunteers and clergy. Father Jim Shaughnessy, pastor of St. Gregory Parish in Marysville, was grateful for the success of the program during its inaugural year.

“We reached a lot of kids. We found more kids in need here than we thought, and I’m sure there’s even more that we don’t know about,” said Father Shaughnessy.

We agree. This year, Catholic Charities aims to reach even more children in need by increasing our food sites and doubling the number of meals served. Accomplishing this goal also means increasing the number of volunteers and community support.

We are called to feed the hungry. We recognize the ripple effect this corporal work of mercy has on the entire family unit.

For Bobby, a sack lunch provides food. For Bobby’s parents, it provides peace of mind.

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