As a teacher for decades, Larry Mattson saw the need in individual children.
The student who was hungry and asked Mattson whether he had anything to eat. The children with stomachaches who prompted the school nurse and teachers to keep crackers and other food in their desk drawers. And the kids who struggled to do their work because they were hungry.
But it wasn’t until Mattson retired from the Center School District in 2011 and became a volunteer for the Harvesters’ BackSnack program, that he realized how vast the problem of childhood hunger was.
“No matter where they live, the inner city or suburban area, there is that need,” Mattson said.
Shortly after he and his wife, also a teacher, retired, they looked for volunteering opportunities. They inquired at their church, Colonial Presbyterian.
When Harvesters reached out to the church to see whether members would help pack and deliver the weekend food to two elementary schools in the Center district, Mattson and his wife, Julie, thought that would be perfect for them. He was a retired middle-school history teacher, she was a retired elementary physical education teacher.
The two became regular volunteers. “It’s something we did together and felt strongly about,” Mattson said. “We wanted to help kids.”
Julie Mattson died last December, and Larry Mattson continues to do what they did together.
Mattson and about six other volunteers pack BackSnacks every other Wednesday. They do half the total amount that goes to the two Center schools.
The other half is packed by volunteers from the church’s Abounding Love team, a special-needs fellowship group. About 20 to 30 adults with special needs pack the bags every other Monday night.
“They can work and feel like they’re helping out somebody,” said Mindy Loparco, the Abounding Love team coordinator. “It’s a really good way for them to give back to the community. Everybody needs to feel needed.”
Other groups fill BackSnack packs for children at the Center district’s two other elementary schools. The packs provide two breakfasts, two other meals and snacks to tide a child over from Friday night to Monday morning. Teachers, nurses, counselors and even principals help decide which children might go without if they didn’t get the BackSnack packs.
From his days in the classroom, Mattson said he knows how critical having enough food can be for children.
“If you’re hungry, you’re not going to learn,” he said.
Feeding hungry 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. You also can mail a check to Harvesters, 3801 Topping Ave., Kansas City, MO 64129. The drive will continue through Dec. 31.
Everyone who has donated to the drive before midnight on Christmas Eve will be entered in a drawing for a football autographed by the Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles.