Mike Fannin | Kansas City steps up to help hungry children

By now you’ve seen the pictures drawn by hungry kids describing the joy and relief they feel when they receive food. Today, on Christmas, we hope those images linger.

For the last two years, The Star has partnered with Harvesters in an effort to put a dent in Kansas City’s sizable childhood hunger problem.

With your generous help, we’ve made some marks.

Together, we’ve raised more than half a million dollars — $235,000 last year and $284,000 this holiday season — and filled more than 85,000 backpacks with food that sustains young bodies and minds.

Today, it’s worth remembering that little miracles can and do still happen.

“To see this many people step up and say we want to help these kids is just wonderful,” said Karen Haren, president and CEO of Harvesters.

“People know people are hurting, but there are still pockets of disbelief, a lack of awareness,” she said. “It doesn’t fit our idyllic vision. Childhood is supposed to be this great time, no worries. It’s not supposed to be about, ‘I don’t know where my next food is coming from.’ ”

Last month, we asked our readers to take the “KC Challenge” to eradicate this scourge in our city.

As part of the program, Harvesters and The Star picked up where we left off last year on our virtual food drive. Star reporter Laura Bauer wrote compelling stories every day for two weeks to keep readers apprised of what was happening on the front lines of hunger. And Harvesters organized three consecutive “Star Sundays” for volunteers to pack food for shipping.

The result of all this effort was absolutely measurable progress. Awareness was raised, money flowed to the cause and, just as important, Harvesters got a helping hand from nearly 600 volunteers who donated 1,200 hours of time and 1,700 pounds of food.

Many of them were first-timers who said they would come back again.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, an assembly line formed in the Harvesters warehouse, with volunteers young and old ready to pitch in. For two hours, a gentle camaraderie settled in over a frantic pace along the line as my 10-year-old daughter, Emily, and I shoehorned cans of chicken and dumplings into plastic bags bulging with goods.

Our group packed between 3,000 and 4,000 BackSnacks. Afterward, there were smiles and aching backs to go around. And there was something else: a real sense of community.

Similar impacts were felt around the city.

When folks read about the Cadet Club at Southwest Early College Campus and what its members are doing to buy breakfasts and lunches for hungry teens on reduced-price meal programs, they donated more than $2,000 to the club.

“It’s heartbreaking to realize that so many teens, in addition to elementary schoolchildren, go to school hungry and can’t afford school lunches, either,” wrote a woman who wanted to know where to send money.

One man who read about a Kansas City, Kan., school nurse who often sees hungry children dropped off food because he was worried about kids having enough to eat during the holiday break. Others sent Christmas presents and grocery-store gift cards to families in need.

Scores of readers clicked our module at KansasCity.com and went to Harvesters.org to make their donations. Many of them chose to dedicate their contributions to family. As we did last year, we are running those dedications in today’s paper, on Pages A26 and A27.

I’ll share one with you here, from Randy and Millie Thomas.

“We would like to designate this donation in the memory of Jessica Tracey Thomas Scott, our daughter who passed away 1/1/2011 at the age of 32 and who left behind her two children, ages 11 and 8. Jessica was always helping someone in need, regardless of their circumstances. She would have been the first to be involved in this cause, and it is only fitting we do the same. Thank you for helping make a difference to help children who aren’t as fortunate as others due to life events. It is never OK to let a child go hungry.”

No, it isn’t OK. And while we can’t agree on everything in this divided and cynical world, we most certainly can on this point: Feeding hungry kids is a moral obligation, and a challenge we must rise to meet.

Ultimately, this is our home and we are responsible for what happens in it. Thanks to everyone who has given, it’s a better place today because of you.

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