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Friday backpack program helps feed hungry children

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, at 11:47 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, at 11:50 p.m.

How to help

To volunteer, call Larry Gunkel at the Kansas Food Bank at 316-265-4421. Volunteer hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and all volunteers must be scheduled.

To donate to the food bank, call 316-265-4421, go to www.kansasfoodbank.org, or write: Kansas Food Bank Backpack Program, 1919 E. Douglas, Wichita KS 67211-1627. Because the food bank can buy food at low cost, the staff said that every $1 donated can provide up to $10 of food.

In Wichita, a student at Payne Elementary school told his teachers last year that he didn’t have any food at home. Another, at Enterprise Elementary school, nearly missed his bus home in December because a substitute teacher had forgotten to arrange for him to get his food backpack to take home for the weekend.

At the Ellsworth Middle School, teachers last month wrote a note to the Kansas Food Bank about one student. He had been found “digging through the trash for food at school,” the note said. “When asked what he wanted as a reward for school, he said ‘macaroni and cheese.’ Mom was grateful when I called her.”

The Kansas Food Bank is now serving 7,158 students or their siblings in 396 schools in Wichita and across Kansas with its Food4Kids Friday backpack program.

That number is an all-time high since the food bank started passing out backpacks to school children in 2004. Last year the program served 6,374 students in 369 schools.

The program ensures that students identified by school staff as chronically hungry in the schools served can get a backpack of food on Fridays, to tide them over for the weekend. Teachers and school social workers have told the food bank for years that some of their students often don’t get anything to eat outside of school breakfasts and lunches.

Larry Gunkel, who runs the program for the food bank, always asks schools to supply him with notes describing the situation of these children. Most of the notes sent to the food bank are written by teachers or school social workers but students sometimes send notes. Gunkel has said some of these notes are upsetting because of the suffering described.

A few examples:

A school staff member at an Arkansas City Elementary school wrote in December: “A single mother with several children informed me that she is so thankful for the food. She states the children’s father does not pay child support and the lunches etc. helps feed her children on the weekend. Thank you.”

“I had a 5th grade boy come frantically into my office on a Friday because he did not get his food pack (substitute forgot).” A staff member at Enterprise Elementary School in Wichita wrote. “He almost missed his bus but he was not going to miss getting the food.”

In November a staff member at Marion Elementary School wrote that “One mother told me that Fridays are like Christmas at her house for her two children who receive the food packs because they are so excited about getting the food, not because they want it, but because they desperately need it.”

From the staff at Mead Middle School last year: One young man who receives food packets “had class with a student who is new…he found out this student was hungry during the weekends and shared some of his package with him, then brought him to the office and helped him get set up to receive the food package for the weekends as well. I tell him every time I see him that we need more caring students like him, and he just gives me a big smile.”

From Dodge City Elementary School: “A student has difficulty with truancy. She has difficulty with Dad working. She has poor living conditions but she is a cute spunky thing. Grandma is a jewel to her when she can get her but otherwise the little one is in a dark, damp basement.”

Again from Arkansas City Elementary school: “New child tells his teacher that all he has to eat is crackers.”

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com.

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