By the beginning of this week, the Kansas Food Bank was handing out 6,565 backpacks of food to poor schoolchildren every Friday in Wichita and the counties the Bank serves in Kansas.
That’s an increase from the 6,352 it reported the month before, said Larry Gunkel, who runs the Food4Kids program for the Food Bank.
The program was created nine years ago when educators realized many children were not eating on weekends, and were living mostly on food they get at breakfast and lunch at school. The backpacks go to 391 schools total, 76 of which are in Wichita.
By the end of last school year, the Food Bank was giving out food backpacks to a record 7,158 children a week in Wichita and the counties the Food Bank serves. Gunkel has said that with the numbers trending as they are, the backpack program will likely exceed the record number during this school year, and possibly reach 8,000 among the more than 300 schools it serves statewide.
Part of the reason the number goes up over the course of a school year is because the Food Bank is extending its food backpack network a little more throughout Kansas month by month. But Gunkel and Food Bank Director Brian Walker have also said that the fallout from the 2008 recession has created more poverty, including for tens of thousands of children, and that the poverty numbers still trend upward.
Gunkel for years has asked coordinators and educators to send him notes with anecdotes about what they are seeing with these children. In his latest monthly public report, issued this week, Gunkel included a note from Minneha Elementary School, where educators working with the Food Bank wrote Gunkel quoting one child: "I really appreciate that food you give to us. We don't have enough food at home."
Gunkel included another note, from an educator from White Elementary School in Wichita, who wrote: “It has come to my attention, that a student's family is behind on a lot of bills and are having difficulty obtaining enough food. They are struggling paying utilities and such. The mother was extremely grateful to be offered this support for her child. This is a child that is in real danger of not eating much over the weekends.”
An educator from Arkansas City Middle School, wrote: “A student came to us that had not been on the program for a couple of years. She had tears in her eyes that finances at home had changed and they did not have money for food anymore. She came in several days to make sure she would be on the program for the next week to get food.”
Another educator, from Vermillion Elementary School in Maize, wrote Gunkel: “A parent called and wanted you all to know how much she truly appreciated the food for her child – she said it made a huge difference and gave her a sense of relief that her child had something to eat on the weekend.”
An educator from Morris Hill Elementary School at Fort Riley wrote Gunkel: “I had a Kindergarten student that was so excited that he got a bag of food for over the Thanksgiving vacation. He was talking to his classroom teacher about it and she shared with me. I think this bag of food will be his Thanksgiving Dinner.”