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Thousands of families in Kansas City-area rely on summer meal programs

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Posted at 6:11 PM, Jun 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-07 19:24:56-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo — Many parents in the Kansas City area are having to figure out how to feed their kids during summer months.

According to Hands to Hearts, a local nonprofit, nearly 40% of students qualified for free and reduced lunch during the 2020-21 school year in Kansas City, Missouri.

Sarah Biles, the director of communications with Harvesters - The Community Food Network, says Harvesters is working to help families need.

According to Biles, Harvesters has partnered with more than 40 sites cross the area and in Topeka to host the Kids Cafe Program.

The goal was to choose locations that are as convenient for families as possible, so many of them will be held in public parks, community centers and libraries.

“We run it during the school year after school to provide some meals for some kids that might not get dinner later in the evening," Biles said. "And then in the summer, our sites are either open during the lunch hour or late afternoon to provide help fill that gap for families."

Each site will determine their own hours, but lunches will usually be between noon to 2 p.m. Dinners will be served between 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

For a full list of dates and locations, people can visit Harvesters' website.

The BackSnack program is also still underway.

It provides a weekly backpack filled with nutritious, child-friendly food for school children at elementary and some middle schools to take home over the weekend.

Harvesters saw up to 40% increase in need when the pandemic began.

As governmental assistance starting rolling out and cases went down, the need declined.

But with inflation hurting families in recent months, the need is back up by 20 to 30% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“We know that about 93,000 children in our 26 counties that we serve are at risk of hunger of going to bed hungry,” Biles said. “Families are making tough choices between paying for housing, which is increasing, paying for gas, paying for utilities or buying food.”

The federal government passed over 100 waivers to address child food insecurity during the pandemic, but those will expire on June 30.

States were able to apply for extensions — Kansas did and received those waivers, while Missouri did not.

“Also, those waivers are eliminating universal eligibility for free and reduced lunches at school," Biles said. "So come the fall, kids that could’ve had the ability to take advantage of that program and get free and reduced lunches, won’t have that anymore."

According to Hands to Hearts, 1 in 6 kids suffer from food insecurity in Kansas City and more than 25% of school aged children live in poverty.

Amanda Simmons, president with Hands to Hearts, says the problem is intensified by a rise in homelessness.

According to recent data from The National Center on Family Homelessness, 1 in every 45 children in the U.S. experiences homelessness each year.

In Missouri alone, recent data by the U.S. Department of Education shows 1 in 13 children under six experienced homelessness and almost 5,200 students in grades K-12 experience homelessness.

Christina Norman, a mother of three, says having the option to take advantage of the Kids Cafe program is a weight off parents’ shoulders.

Her two oldest kids usually eat breakfast and lunch through the free and reduced lunch program, so feeding her kids has been an extra burden these days.

“For some reason they are always hungry, so you go through food a lot differently when they are home more during the summer,” Norman said. “We’re still struggling just like everybody else, it’s still expensive to survive day to day.”