On a long drive through Kansas last year, Brian Walker and other Kansas Food Bank employees came up with what he calls a far-out idea:
No elderly Kansan should ever go hungry again.
It’s far-out because it takes money, he said. He’s president of the Kansas Food Bank, but he can’t make a million and a half dollars magically appear.
But there is one Kansas war hero who probably can do that, he decided.
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On Friday the Kansas Food Bank announced a new statewide program to feed poor elderly Kansans.
The man who made it possible, Walker said, is Bob Dole, a Russell native, war hero and national leader who grew up in poverty himself.
The Food Bank says it will use a $250,000 matching fund pledge from Dole to create the “Bob Box,” boxes of food to be distributed throughout the state within five years to alleviate “food insecurity” among the elderly.
The Food Bank needs $1.6 million to make sure hundreds of boxes of food get distributed throughout the state at least once a month, within five years. He hopes Dole’s pledge will entice other donors to match it, and then to exceed it, bringing in the money needed to get it set up.
Walker said seniors themselves might be a tough sell on the program. “All too often a senior will not ask for help, and when they finally do, they are embarrassed because they are asking for assistance,” Walker said.
But the facts about elderly hunger in Kansas are worrisome, he said. Six and a half percent of Kansans older than 50 are food insecure, meaning they do not always know where their next meal will come from, he said. Kansas’ poverty rate, he said, is 12.4 percent, with nearly 8 percent of the senior population living below the poverty level. Elderly people on fixed incomes often have to choose between buying their medications, paying for shelter and buying food.
Boxes of several complete meals apiece will be sent throughout the state, starting with 24 counties in the northwest corner of Kansas by the end of this year, Walker said. Within five years, the Food Bank hopes to send boxes monthly throughout the state.
The boxes will be sent to VFWs, health departments and other locations. Deliveries will take place once a month, but seniors needing more than one box a month will be allowed to get more.
Walker went to Washington, D.C., after talking Dole into sponsoring the program. Meeting him, Walker said, “was the highlight of my life.” Dole told him that before he got wounded in World War II, he and his parents in Russell lived so far below the poverty line that they lived in their own basement and rented out the top part of their own house. After the war, people put nickels and dimes and dollars into a cigar box to help the badly crippled Dole recover from his wounds.
“Older adults are such a proud group,” Dole wrote in prepared remarks for the Food Bank announcement on Friday. “They would rather go without, before asking for help. Seniors in rural Kansas have limited access to hunger relief associations. Those living in extreme poverty have no means to stock their kitchen shelves.”
Dole pointed out that he spent much of his political career helping the hungry get food, voting for affordable school lunches, food stamp reform and the Global Food for Education Initiative. “Please consider this a gift — a hand up, not a hand out,” Dole wrote.
The Food Bank already feeds many needy people of all ages. It distributes food to food pantries throughout Wichita, and in 85 counties in Kansas. It sends backpacks of food to many schools in Wichita and in outstate Kansas, ensuring that children don’t go hungry on weekends during the school year.
People wanting to donate to the Bob Box program, or who want more information, can contact Debi Kreutzman at the Kansas Food Bank, 316-265-FOOD, or firstname.lastname@example.org.