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Holidays motivate people to help stock food pantries in Kansas City

In this file photo, Jo Hickey, food pantry director with Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City, left, helped Sandy Terwilliger, food pantry coordinator with JFS, center, with a box of food items on Tuesday morning to be added to the assembly of 70 boxes of food to be delivered on Sunday and Monday to the organization's clients for Passover.
In this file photo, Jo Hickey, food pantry director with Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City, left, helped Sandy Terwilliger, food pantry coordinator with JFS, center, with a box of food items on Tuesday morning to be added to the assembly of 70 boxes of food to be delivered on Sunday and Monday to the organization's clients for Passover. The Kansas City Star

It’s the holiday festivities, many that revolve around food and family meals, that increase people’s desire to help ease the plight of the hungry.

“We are very fortunate that our community thinks about hungry people this time of year, but the fact is the need is high throughout the year,” said Ellen Feldhausen, director of communications for Harvesters — The Community Food Network.

Harvesters’ network of more than 620 nonprofit agencies feed 141,500 different people every month.

“Many of those people come to one of our pantries or kitchens more than once a month,” she added.

Feldhausen said that 63 percent of the households they serve have to make the decision between paying for food and paying utilities. Similarly, 62 percent of the households they serve have to make the decision between paying for food and paying for medical care. And 54 percent have to choose between paying for food and paying rent or mortgage.

“The need has been at the highest level this organization has served really since the recession,” Feldhausen said.

Harvesters is in the midst of its Check-Out Hunger campaign, which makes it easy for people to add $1, $5, $10 or $20 to their grocery bill by scanning one of the Check-Out Hunger coupons at the register.

Community Services League

Doug Cowan, president and chief executive officer of Community Services League which operates seven food pantries in the eastern Jackson County area, said the pantries will distribute close to one million food items to children and families that are in need.

“Some people mistakenly think that just because we tend to serve people in the suburban areas or outside the urban core, there’s not as much need,” Cowan said. “The reality is that there is a tremendous need.”

Cowan said they tried to provide needy families with a Christmas meal box, which includes a turkey, ham or chicken.

“We are having to be a little more creative when it comes to putting together these Christmas meal boxes and overcoming the shortages of turkeys that are on the market this year,” Cowan said.

The pantries also try to be accommodating to those with special dietary needs.

He said they are seeing more requests for gluten-free products and dairy restrictions as well as low-fat and low-salt products. A large percentage of the families that Community Services League serve have a high propensity for health problems.

“We realize that going into it so we try to be receptive to that and try to accommodate those requests we have,” Cowan said. “The old food pantry model of ‘Let’s come up with 25 can items, throw them in a box and call it good’ is not meeting the needs of families that are requesting help.”

When giving food to a pantry, donors can help by pairing their items in way that makes sense from a meal standpoint.

“We work to try to create meal opportunities for families so we love it when we see a food drive that comes in and its focused in on peanut butter, jelly and bread because right there you got sandwiches,” Cowan said. He also encourages people to make their donations an ongoing effort because hunger is not just limited to the holidays.

Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City

“The demand for our food pantry and our assistance program is continuing to grow,” said Jo Hickey, food pantry director for the Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City. “It is hard for our care managers and staff that do assessments to keep up the phone calls that are coming in.”

Jewish Family Services runs two pantries — one at the Jewish Community Campus in Overland Park and the other near 92nd Street and Ward Parkway in Kansas City.

“As working families are struggling to make ends meet, they need a little assistance to keep up with utilities and rent,” she said. “Our food pantry steps in to free up those funds by providing a week’s worth of groceries.”

The pantry allows clients to shop for what their households will use most. The pantry offers canned fruits, vegetables and proteins, along fresh fruits and proteins like eggs or hot dogs when available.

The pantry provides items that help families prepare nutritious meals for a week. For a family of four, that typically means about 75 pounds of groceries, Hickey said.

The pantry continuously struggles to provide items like tomato sauce, canned fruit, spices, personal hygiene products and paper products.

With about half of its clients being Jewish, the Jewish Family Services offers a kosher pantry.

“We work diligently to make sure our kosher pantry has the same items available as our non-kosher pantry,” Hickey said.

People wanting to donate kosher food should look for a hechsher on the cans.

“When foods are produced, if it is a kosher product, it receives a hechsher,” Hickey said. “That little circle ‘U’ on cans, that would be a kosher product. There are about 30 other hechshers in the Kansas City area, if not more.”

Kosher families don’t eat pork products or shellfish, so the Jewish Family Services shares any products like pork and beans and clam chowder with non-Jewish pantries.

The Jewish Family Services also offers a pet food pantry called Jasmine’s Corner. “We found that many of our clients were utilizing the food we intended for them to assist in feeding their pets,” Hickey said. “We want to make sure the whole household is fed.”

To reach Robert A. Cronkleton, call 816-234-4261 or send email to bcronkleton@kcstar.com.

Items in high demand

Items that can pair for a meal; like bread, peanut butter and jelly

Canned fruit

Personal hygiene products

Spices

Tomato sauce

Low-sodium products

Low-fat products

Gluten-free products

Pet food

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