Local Columnists

Laura Bauer: When kids are hungry, the Kansas City area helps

Children in the Center School District recently 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 recently 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.

The young boy’s words were uncomfortable to hear.

“Sometimes we don’t have food at home.”

Another child worried that his mom was always tired because she worked so hard to pay the bills.

“She works like every day of the week,” he said.

Then there was the young girl whose mom often skipped dinner so the girl and her brother would have enough food. The girl wanted to be a chef when she grew up. That way, she could open a restaurant and have one table where hungry people could eat for free.

Never did any of these children — who live in all parts of the Kansas City area — say they were poor. Never did they say they felt alone or scared. Or worried.

And for good reason.

People in other countries, whose communities can’t help them, are poor. On TV news clips and in national news stories, they appear afraid. Almost hopeless.

But that’s not the case here in Kansas City. Not where people only need to know that someone is hungry to step up and help.

That’s been demonstrated year after year since 2010, when The Star and Harvesters first partnered on the KC Challenge, a virtual food drive aimed at feeding the area’s hungriest children.

You’ve called wanting to do something, whether it’s to send money or drop off canned goods or offer a free trip to the grocery store for a family in need. Or just to help, in any way, the young girl who cried to her teacher because she had only beans and popcorn to eat at home.

You’ve volunteered to pack bags of food for hungry kids, often bringing your own children, and have checked into the virtual food drive to donate money in the name of a loved one.

In five years, you’ve contributed nearly $1 million to feed area children on the weekend. As this year’s drive enters the final days, there’s still time to help. Every cent of the money goes to the food bank’s BackSnack program, which provides elementary school students with two breakfasts, two other meals and snacks to tide them over from Friday night until Monday morning.

That tally doesn’t include the personal gifts to families in need, like the mother who explained her plight to the newspaper in December 2010. All she wanted was to feed her children pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans, instead of white pasta and sauce, no meat.

Pork chops soon filled her freezer, and her cabinets brimmed with green beans, potatoes and other food.

Another mom told a similar story a year later, talking of how she and her husband looked for jobs every day. She had to keep to a strict list at the grocery store so her food stamps would stretch, and she saved a pound of bacon for weeks so her daughter would have her favorite food on the morning of her birthday. Readers wanted to help that family.

Contrary to what too many people think, the need is in every pocket of the metropolitan area. Not just in urban areas or low-income communities, but in the north and the south, including wealthy areas in Johnson County. In rural areas where parents without transportation struggle to get to a grocery store and where two or three families live together because of job losses.

It doesn’t matter where the need is. The help follows. Churches have become food pantries. One family decided to open their garage as a storage and staging area for packing food for people who need it. A woman who had no idea children in the middle of America often went to bed hungry told her family not to buy her Christmas presents one year and to instead donate the money to Harvesters.

One reader wrote the first year of the KC Challenge that she and a colleague wanted to help but didn’t know how.

“Please, please let us know how to be a voice for these children,” she said.

The next year, a woman said stories on childhood hunger helped “put our lives in perspective.”

And earlier this month, a reader said there’s still a need for education.

“Many insular folks have no idea of the needs of our neighbors who don’t have enough to eat from day to day.”

My sons have grown up hearing stories of how their mother grew up, much like the children she has written about every December for the past five years. And they’re learning, I hope, that sometimes it’s not a handout that families need, but a hand up. If only for a while.

And that no kid should spend a weekend without enough food in the cabinets at home.

Each year during the KC Challenge, my sons have gone to pack food at Harvesters. They like to feel they’re actually helping by stuffing a can of peaches or ravioli into a bag.

Just last weekend a woman looked at our third-grader in the BackSnack assembly line and nodded.

“I like to see the kids,” she said. “They need to know that they’re fortunate.”

All it takes is to stop what they’re doing for an afternoon and help. Pack those bags and know that a child who lives close to them will grab one each Friday and feel relief.

Because let’s face it, the young boy whose words should make all of us uncomfortable is right. Sometimes families don’t have enough food at home. Even in the middle of America. Sometimes parents have to work countless days just to put a meal on the table or keep the lights on.

But in Kansas City, kids in those families still can dream of opening their own restaurant one day and helping others who don’t have what they have. Just as this community has done for them.

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

Donate to Harvesters and help 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. 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. Sunday.

Everyone who has donated to the drive before Christmas Eve will be entered in a drawing for a football autographed by the Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles.

The drive will continue through Dec. 31.

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