With its newer schools and neighborhoods and a median family income of $98,416, the Blue Valley School District is not the first place on most people’s list to look for children going hungry.
In fact, the district has the lowest percentage of children enrolled in free or reduced-price school lunches in the county, with only 8 percent compared to Shawnee Mission’s 37 percent. Yet that 8 percent represents a significant increase over the last few recession years. It’s roughly double the number enrolled in 2007-08, and the biggest percentage increase of any school district in the county, according to figures provided by United Community Services of Johnson County.
Enter Community for Kids, a new volunteer group providing weekend and holiday food packs for students who may not have enough food to get through until the next school lunch.
“The biggest hurdle right now is education,” said Gary Flick, spokesman for the year-old group. “Once we share with people in the neighborhoods what the need is I don’t think we’re going to have any problem getting people to sponsor the kids.”
It works like this: School teachers and counselors look for students who are “food insecure.” Community for Kids raises money and buys food, packs it up and delivers it to the schools to distribute. That way, those students can go home on Friday afternoon with a few extra snacks in their backpacks to see them through. The group also tries to send larger quantities for extended school breaks and holidays, Flick said.
Last year, Community for Kids delivered to four elementary schools, reaching 77 students. This year, there are six schools on the list with 182 students. Eventually, Flick said, the group hopes to expand its services to middle schools as well.
The need has been growing in the Blue Valley district, especially in schools near low-income apartment complexes, Flick said.
This school year, 1,773 Blue Valley students are in the subsidized lunch program, according to state figures. But the actual need may be higher because often families don’t enroll because of the stigma of accepting that aid, said Karen Wulfkuhle, director of the United Community Services of Johnson County.
Community for Kids depends on donations from civic groups and individuals. The group has done food drives through church vacation Bible schools and also has accepted food donations of bagels, fresh fruit and granola bars from Panera Bread, Flick said. Three area churches have also helped with staging and delivering: Advent Lutheran, Stilwell United Methodist and Lord of Life Lutheran.
The nonprofit hopes to raise about $20,000 this year to keep the program going, Flick said. To that end, Community of Kids will have a sponsorship program this year, recommending $25 to fund eight food packs for one week, $90 for fresh fruit for 181 students for one week, $125 to sponsor one child for one year or $588 for 182 food packs for one week.
So far, the group is only looking at Blue Valley schools, Flick said. But if it is successful, it may become a blueprint for similar programs in other districts.
The elementary schools receiving food packs this year are Leawood, Mission Trail, Overland Trail, Indian Valley, Stilwell and Valley Park.