by Lauren Solidum
More than 34 million people, including 10 million children, experience food insecurity in the United States.
The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. This can be a temporary situation for a family or can last a long time. Food insecurity is one way we measure how many people can’t afford food.
September is Hunger Awareness Month, and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas is committed to addressing hunger and food insecurity through many solutions. We strive to provide healthy food to families in need as a way to supplement their household food budget.
We operate eight pantries in our 21-county service area. Following the pandemic and the rising cost of groceries, we have seen a 69% increase in people accessing our food pantries. When families come to us, we connect them to federal nutrition programs such as WIC and SNAP. Both of these programs allow low-income families benefits so they can purchase nutritious food. In select locations, we also distribute nutritious food boxes to seniors.
Food assistance is also available on a first- come, first-served basis through our monthly mobile food distributions in Olathe, Lawrence and Kansas City, Kansas. This past fiscal year, 440,240 pounds of healthy food was given out, including fruits, vegetables and refrigerated items.
Throughout the summer, we offer our Kids Summer Food Program, providing a healthy sack lunch to children who often qualify for a reduced or free lunch during the school year. This summer, we distributed over 38,000 lunches, with 85% given out to children in our rural communities where resources are not as abundant. Our rural neighbors are also served through our Resource Bus, which is staffed by a case manager and equipped with food, diapers, hygiene items and more.
While we have seen the demand for food increase, food donations have decreased over the summer months. Our shelves are close to empty. We are not able to replace our inventory at a rate that keeps adequate food on the shelves. We continue to purchase food, but there is limited bulk available, and just like everyone, our dollar is not going as far. We depend on the generosity of our parish and school food drives to keep us stocked with shelf stable food.
How can you help? We can all fight the root causes of poverty by helping those who live in its grip. An immediate way to help is to participate in a food drive for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas or donating nonperishable items to one of our pantries. For a listing of upcoming food drives and most needed items, go online to: https://catholiccharitiesks.org/food-drives.