Kids Summer Food Program—Making an Impact during COVID-19

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Above: Watch as Catholic Charities staff and volunteers share the importance of the Kids Summer Food program, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

School's Out, Food's Out

Over 18% of Kansas children experience food insecurity. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from—or if there will be one.

These children may receive free or reduced-price school lunches during the academic year, but during the summer months families struggle to provide consistent access to healthy meals.

Our Kids Summer Food Program provides free, nutritious meals and snacks to help children in low-income areas get the nutrition they need to learn, play, and grow, throughout the summer months.

Traditionally, the program runs from June to August and serves free meals and educational activities to children who visit the site. During the summer of 2019, we served 12,283 meals—a record-breaking number at the time.

Above: A young boy carries a box of lunches for the week.

Pandemic Challenges

When COVID-19 abruptly closed Kansas schools in March 2020, the school lunches that many families rely on suddenly disappeared. Without access to school lunches, and during a time of confusion and economic distress, local children were at increased risk of food insecurity.

Above: Staff and volunteers load boxes of food into a Catholic Charities Resource Bus as part of the Kids Summer Food program.

Catholic Charities worked quickly to start the Kids Summer Food program early. The format had to be adjusted to decrease the risk of community spread. Instead of having children sit at tables to enjoy their meal at community centers and public libraries, we sent our Resource Buses directly to local neighborhoods for pickup and drive-thru distribution.

The contents of the lunch sacks changed, too. Each bag contained enough nutritious, shelf-stable food to provide five meals per child each week.

Kids Summer Food ran for nearly 4 extra months this year, from mid-March until early September when area schools reopened. 

Above: As young girl excitedly carries a bag of food home.

Success During a Difficult Time

The expanded program reached children across 18 sites throughout our Archdiocese, including a brand new partnership with 7 low-income housing programs in Kansas City, Kansas.

We were able to distribute over 89,100 meals (over a sevenfold increase!) to children in need during the spring and summer of 2020.

The program season ended on September 2, 2020 as many schools reopened. We have transitioned to other food relief programs for the course of the academic year.

Above: In addition to socially-distanced distributions directly from the Resource Bus, our staff and volunteers carried food door-to-door to ensure that the families’ needs were being met.

Get Involved!

Although the 2020 Kids Summer Food season has ended, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas is always in need of volunteers. Please check out our current volunteer needs during COVID-19, or contact Cari Olberding, Volunteer Coordinator. To help keep our 20+ programs running across our 21-county service area, consider making a donation to the area of greatest need.

Above: In addition to food, the weekly Kids Summer Food packages contained extra items such as these books.

To learn more about the program, please read the feature article from The Leaven and check out our Kids Summer Food page.

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