Drive raises $310,664 for hungry kids

No one knew what to expect with the KC Challenge virtual food drive to benefit the area’s hungriest kids.

It can be tough to raise money in this economy, when families continue to struggle. Many charities have reported fewer donations.

Yet when the virtual food drive ended Friday afternoon, the total was $310,664, up 32 percent from last year’s $235,952. More than 1,500 people donated to the campaign.

“It’s an extraordinary community response, individual response, to a critical need in our community,” said Karen Haren, president and CEO of Harvesters. “Many are struggling to put food on the table themselves. Then during the holidays, when everyone is so busy, people stopped to think about what’s really important. And that maybe it’s important to stop and feed the hungry children.”

This was the second year The Kansas City Star partnered with Harvesters to sponsor the virtual food drive.

All money from the drive goes to Harvesters’ BackSnack program, which provides packs of food to tide children over on weekends during the school year. Money raised will provide weekly BackSnacks to 1,553 students for the entire school year.

The food drive started Nov. 27 with a Star article that explored how a lack of food affects a child’s brain and emotional and developmental growth. For two weeks after that, The Star published drawings from children expressing how getting the weekly packs of food makes them feel.

On Dec. 11, The Star began a two-week series of stories showing the hunger that teachers, nurses and social service advocates see every day.

A year ago, 1,700 people donated. This year, that dipped to 1,520, but some donations were much larger.

People from across the region sent in checks, some for $25 or $50, others for as much as $5,000. The Community of Christ Church donated $10,000. One person gave $25,000.

Hundreds of people volunteered their time on three Sundays in December to pack BackSnacks at Harvesters. Many were first-time volunteers at the agency and promised to go back. Others vowed to do more to help children.

“Every day I’m hearing people say, ‘I didn’t know. I didn’t know the scope of the problem. I didn’t know that so many kids were going hungry,’” Haren said. “They didn’t know it was in our neighborhood. They thought it was halfway around the world, somewhere other than here.”