Empty shelves at the Geary County Food Pantry.

*EDITORS NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series on the hunger issue in Geary County and how to help.

We have now entered the holiday season with Thanksgiving and Christmas literally right around the corner.

For many families in the Geary County area, this is a time of trepidation where they must decide whether to give their children gifts or food. Whether to eat a warm, belly filling meal or snack on a couple slices of bread so their children can go to bed not hungry.

A study by the Kansas Food Bank and Feeding America shows that 1 in 7 people, or an estimated 215,300 people, in the Kansas Food Bank’s service area turn to food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families, according to a 2014 news release (www.kansasfoodbank.org/hunger-statistics/). This includes 68,900 children and 19,900 seniors.

The report also revealed the following are the choices client households reported making in the past 12 months:

• 71% report choosing between paying for food and paying for utilities.

o 35% of these households are making the choice every month.

• 73% report making choices between paying for food and paying for transportation.

o 35% of these households are making the choice every month.

• 66% report choosing between paying for food and paying for medicine/medical care.

o 30% of these households are making the choice every month.

• 60% report choosing between paying for food and paying for housing.

o 28% of these households are making the choice every month.

• 31% report choosing between paying for food and paying for education expenses.

o 15% are making the choice every month.

More than half of households reported using three or more coping strategies for getting enough food in the past 12 months. The frequency of these strategies among all households include:

• 52% report eating food past the expiration date;

• 14% report growing food in a garden;

• 37% report pawning or selling personal property;

• 82% report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food;

• 33% report watering down food or drinks;

• 55% report receiving help from friends or family.

There are resources here locally to help families in need, especially this time of year.

According to a pamphlet for Wheels of HOPE (Helping Other People Eat), 16% of the students within the USD 475 schools are living at or below the national poverty level.

In fact, Geary County has the highest level of food need in the state.

Thanks to organizations like Wheels of Hope, Geary County Food Pantry, Junction City First United Methodist Church and others, residents are able to get some relief and food.

“Last month, we served 102 (families),” said Carolyn Rose, Wheels of HOPE. “All of our families come through referrals from USD 475. They go through that referral process, and those identified families then are invited to come and participate in the Wheels of HOPE. When we started in 2014, we started with 20 families. And now we’re up to where last month we served 102 families.”

Rose, thanks to a board of directors, orders food in monthly from the Kansas Food Bank warehouse in Wichita. There, a group of volunteers box the individual items together into packages they deliver once a month.

“They get a box with 34 different items in it,” Rose said. “Then they also get two big bags. And that has the dried things in it like Hamburger Helper, rice that type of thing. There’s usually 25, at least, items in that. And then they get meat, they get potatoes, they get produce and they get bread.”

For larger families, they try to give them more meat to help sustain them.

Commodities are picked up once a month at the Jim Clark dealership on Grant Avenue. Only those identified by the school district are eligible for this supplement.

What about me and my family who are not in school yet? We have a need.

The Geary County Food Pantry, 136 W 3rd St., is open three days a week to help.

In October they were able to assist 282 families with food options, said Margaret Kilpatrick, president Geary County Food Pantry board of directors.

“A lot of people are transitioning through, and a lot of people are just falling on kind of hard times,” said Theresa Rose, Geary County Food Pantry manager. “So, you know, it’s just that’s just the realness of it.”

“We say 282 households, but that’s a total of 664 individuals,” Kilpatrick said.” So, our load is very large.”

After servicing those in need this week, the shelves and storage areas were nearly bare. Thanks to constant support from area partners these shelves will be partially restocked but Theresa admitted there have been times where she had to close early due to a lack of food.

“It’s kind of disheartening,” Theresa said. “And then, I always tell Miss Margaret, ‘My faith is so strong that I know that God’s going to provide everything that we need,’ because he has never failed us yet. So, we’ll look at these cabinets, and then we go home … somebody will just bless us. So, our shelves might be empty (now), but I know God can provide everything that we need.”

Junction City First United Methodist Church, 804 N. Jefferson St., offers emergency food to families Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on a once a month basis.

Pam Wilson, church secretary and treasurer, said numbers have doubled over the last year while she still averages 44 families a month needing assistance.

“I can tell that some of that is due to knowledge about the food pantry,” Wilson said. “All of our resource places in town are providing people with a list of where they can go. And the food pantry you know has been hurting and they haven’t been able to help as much. So, oftentimes they send and people here.”

Wilson, with her volunteers, pack bags and boxes with essential, non-perishable food items into family size. There, families can get cereal, box meals, tuna, bread, etc. Due to a lack of space items requiring refrigeration or freezing — meat, produce, milk — are not available.

All three places are dedicated to helping those with a need, and will do their best to help, but unfortunately the supplies are limited and they do have to turn people away.

Check back next Sunday on how you can help your Geary County neighbors.

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