Given all the local job losses, it's not surprising that area food pantries have seen increased demand. But it's troubling that so many of those who are hungry are children — though it's also encouraging that community groups and officials are working together to help feed more kids this summer.
The Kansas Food Bank has seen a 20 to 30 percent increase in demand for food from last year, The Eagle reported. And the need is especially great among children. About 42 percent of the people served in April by United Methodist Open Door's food pantry were under age 18.
But Wichita and Kansas have done poorly in the past in feeding hungry children during the summer. A report released last year by the Food Research and Action Center ranked Kansas nearly last in the nation for participation in summer lunch programs.
There were 152,547 low-income Kansas kids enrolled in school lunch programs during the 2008 school year but only 10,421 children in summer nutrition programs, according to the report. The Wichita school district's participation rate was about the same as the state's.
This is particularly frustrating because the federal government pays for the summer lunch program. So funding and food are available, yet structural and logistical problems have kept many kids from being fed.
To their credit, area agencies and groups came together last summer to begin working on ways to increase Wichita's participation.
One key initiative has been expanding the number of sites serving summer meals from 26 to 40 — and better targeting the location of those sites to neighborhoods with the highest needs. That turned out to be a challenge, as many Wichita public schools are open only four days a week this summer to save money. But area churches and other groups stepped up to provide facilities.
The groups also are trying to better publicize the food program, which began serving meals this week. The Wichita Community Foundation provided money for large signs at the food sites and for door hangers that members of area churches distributed.
Another key has been increased cooperation between food distribution organizations, churches, the Wichita school district and the city of Wichita. These groups have become more mindful and strategic about working together to feed more children. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who faced hunger issues as a child, also has helped raise awareness of the need and called people to action.
Because of these initiatives, Polly Basore, director of development and community relations at the Kansas Food Bank, said the groups hope to serve 50 to 100 percent more kids this summer.
Though that would still leave many kids unfed, it would be a tremendous improvement and a great base for future gains. It also would be yet more evidence of the impact that groups and individuals can make when they work together to tackle a pressing need.