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Hunger knows no boundaries – no state lines – no county lines. Hunger exists everywhere, even in what is considered the most affluent county in Harvesters’ service area – Johnson County, Kan.
In Johnson County, there are 58,910 people who are food insecure – that’s 10.2 percent of the county’s population. There are 21,620 children who are food insecure, or 14.9 percent of all the children in Johnson County. And not all of these individuals are eligible to receive government assistance such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Only about one-third of food-insecure adults and children are eligible for SNAP benefits.
Harvesters has 40 partner agencies in Johnson County, including Shawnee Community Services and the Santa Fe Waystation, who see the need every day.
Every agency operates a little differently. Some receive funding from sponsors or other organizations, but in the case of Shawnee Community Services, their primary source of funds is their daily “garage sale”.
One half of the front of the building is devoted to donated items which are sold at nominal prices. Walk through the “garage sale” and you’ll see a variety of items – lamps, dishes, jewelry, household items, and magazines. The sale of these items helps support the agency. The food pantry is located in the back of the building and volunteers fill grocery carts for clients. It’s not unusual for more than 150 people to visit the agency each day to pick up free bread and any other fresh food products that are available.
In addition to the food the agency receives from Harvesters, it relies on food donations from scout troops, area businesses and civic groups. Sylvia Terry, president and chief executive of Shawnee Community Services, showed off the well-stocked shelves in the pantry, but said they would be empty in two weeks without the donations given to the agency.
“We’re giving out more food today than before,” she said. “It seemed like the need leveled out a bit until 2008. That’s when we saw things blow up with more people needing help, and it’s never really recovered. Last year was the first year in 10 years that we did not have an increase in our numbers,” she added.
Terry says she works closely with other agencies in Johnson and Wyandotte County. “It takes all of us to help people. There is such a need, and we’re all needed because we all have different resources,” she said.
Shawnee Community Services, located near 67th and Nieman Road in Shawnee, Kan., has been providing food and clothing assistance to anyone in the Kansas City metro area since 1982. Children can also pick out a free toy and a book. In the fall, the agency also prepares backpacks of school supplies for children.
The agency has three full-time and three part-time staff and more than 50 regular volunteers and hundreds more that volunteer periodically.
Hearing directly from clients about what works or doesn’t work at the agency, is a unique aspect of how Santa Fe Waystation runs its organization. The agency has an advisory council consisting of pantry guests who meet quarterly and provide feedback to the agency team and volunteers.
The Santa Fe Waystation has seen the need for food assistance grow during the past 16 years. The food pantry is open each Monday for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening and will easily see 100 households (about 350 people total) in those four hours.
“We have people come not only from Johnson and Wyandotte County, but from all of the surrounding communities,” said Cindy Beals, executive director at Santa Fe Waystation. “It’s not unusual for us to see a line of people waiting for the pantry to open each Monday,” she added.
“By providing this food assistance, we’re helping our guests stretch their budgets and become more food secure,” Beals added.
One thing Beals is proud of at the agency is the amount of additional fresh food and produce they will soon be able to provide. They recently applied for a grant through the State of Kansas and will soon receive two commercial refrigerators and one upright freezer which will supplement their three existing chest freezers. “This will allow us to accept more donations from our partners,” she said.
In addition to providing food assistance, three times a year, the agency partners with United Healthcare to offer health insurance assistance to guests. Beals said during one of these sessions, the United Healthcare team was able to resolve a Medicare issue for one of their guests.
Santa Fe Waystation originally began as a ministry of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, but is now its own entity. Still housed at the church, the agency, located at 64th and Santa Fe (near Shawnee Mission Parkway) in Overland Park, Kan. has helped care for the community since 2003. The agency has one part-time staff person and 75 volunteers who assist guests and also pick up food from Harvesters and area restaurants and grocery partners.
The pantry is client choice so guests are able to select the food they want. The pantry also participated in Harvesters’ Healthy Pantry Program and provides information and recipes with the fresh produce they distribute. Kansas State Extension volunteers also visit the pantry once a month and create and prepare healthy recipes using products from the pantry.