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KCK program sees people travel ‘two hours across the city on a bus’ for a bag of food

Children in the Center School District made colorful notes and pictures to express their feelings about the BackSnack packs of food they receive on Fridays to take home for the weekend.
Children in the Center School District made colorful notes and pictures to express their feelings about the BackSnack packs of food they receive on Fridays to take home for the weekend. The Kansas City Star

The Star is partnering with Harvesters again on a virtual food drive to feed KC kids. To donate, go to FeedingKCKids.HarvestersVFD.org.

In her office in Wyandotte County, Kerry Wrenick has grocery sacks of food with enough peanut butter and applesauce and crackers to keep someone from going hungry.

In the past several weeks, Wrenick has delivered these sacks — one at a time — to a few homeless teens at high schools in Kansas City, Kan. She had one handy for a pregnant mom who traveled across the state line by bus to get food for her and her 9-year-old daughter.

“For a bag of food, they were coming two hours across the city on a bus — that’s crazy for us,” said Wrenick, who works for the Kansas City, Kan., School District’s McKinney-Vento program, which helps students without permanent housing. “But she did it because that’s what she had to do.”

After several years of working with families who don’t have a home of their own and who often struggle with basic needs, Wrenick knows that you can’t just reach people one way. For some, a meal at a soup kitchen may be what they need. Other families get help from Harvesters’ BackSnack program or mobile food pantries.

But what about a teen without a car or a place to call home or really any support at all? Or a family who just needs a little something to get by before a check comes in?

That’s where these “family packs” come in. In one grocery sack is enough to feed a family over a weekend. Most times there’s a jar of peanut butter, crackers, maybe some tuna and a can of ravioli or soup, plus applesauce, granola bars and oatmeal. The sacks are packed and ready to go out whenever the need comes in.

Two families and a small church group provide the food. Volunteers pack it, and Avenue of Life, a community organization and ministry in Kansas City, Kan., provides the storage and assembly place.

“It blows us away that we have hungry people in the United States,” said Amy Dmyterko of Shawnee, who organizes the volunteers and whose family helps buy the food. “… We want hungry bellies to be filled. And the best way to tell people about God is to meet people’s basic needs.”

She and her husband, Mike, used to store the food in their garage. But then Avenue of Life offered the space.

Once a month, Dmyterko sends out an email reminding people about the packing day.

The email list “gets bigger and bigger, and whoever can show up shows up,” she said. “It’s really pretty much our friends or people who have heard about us.”

Someone with Avenue of Life delivers the family packs — at least 30 each week — to Wrenick’s office.

Wrenick tells the story of one high school girl who sometimes lives at home with her mom. But the situation isn’t always healthy or safe, and there’s often no food at home. The girl often stays at her boyfriend’s house or with other friends.

“Her needs hadn’t been met for a long time,” Wrenick said. “It had gotten to the point she didn’t have anything. Right before Thanksgiving, I took her a bag.”

For a teen, the food can last several days. For a family, at least a weekend.

“Families know if money runs out by the end of the month, they know they can come to us and get a bag of food,” Wrenick said. “To combat hunger, you have to come at if from different perspectives.

“You have to be very strategic in how you are meeting the needs of hunger.”

To reach Laura Bauer, call 816-234-4944 or send email to lbauer@kcstar.com.

Feeding KC kids

This holiday season, The Star is again partnering with Harvesters on a virtual food drive to raise money for the area’s hungriest children.

All money goes to Harvesters’ BackSnack program, which provides low-income children with packs of food each Friday to tide them over until they return to school Monday. A $25 donation provides a child BackSnack packs for a month; $250 provides BackSnacks for a year.

If you would like to give, go to FeedingKCKids.HarvestersVFD.org. Or you can send a check to Harvesters, 3801 Topping Ave., Kansas City, MO 64129. You can donate in a loved one’s name, with reader dedications published in The Star’s Christmas edition. The deadline for dedications is 5 p.m. Dec. 21.

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