A list of needed donations for the United Way's Seal Program which provides bagged, ready-to-cook meals to those in need.

By Will Ravenstein

Junction City Union

The COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the world and around Kansas has pushed grocery and big box stores to the brink in what they are able to keep on their shelves. Things have gotten better as both Dillons and Walmart have scaled back on their store hours and each have limited quantities on essential items so nearly everyone has the opportunity to purchase them.

With the critical need for food happening, a stronger partnership was forged between Live Well Geary County, The United Way Junction City-Geary County and Geary County Schools USD 475.

“In light of the pandemic that is going on right now, we have put together a partnership that is absolutely amazing,” United Way Junction City-Geary County Director Nichole Mader said. “And between Live Well Geary County, United Way Junction City-Geary county and USD 475 to provide food — breakfast, lunch and dinner for children and families in Geary County.”

At select locations in the county, families with children ages 1 to 18 years old are able to pick up sacked lunch, breakfast for the next day and a family meal kit free of charge — regardless of income.

“United Way’s part of that is providing our family meal kits,” Mader said. “And that was originally started by Cole Seal, out of Georgia. She created ‘The Seal Project,’ which is family meal packets that has a complete meal that can feed a family of anywhere between four to six or even six to eight. And these are all low cost, budget friendly meals that families can afford. I mean we have some that are only $3.78, and then we have some that range all the way up to $11 that feels like a family of eight.”

According to the Facebook page set up by Seal — www.facebook.com/TheSealProject2018 — the Seal Project was started in 2018 as a way to bring humanity back to emergency food service. Cole tired of seeing those in emergency situations being given random assortments of canned goods, so she set out to create something different. Thus, meal bags were born. Meal bags contain a recipe and all of the ingredients to cook a filling meal for a family.

The meal kits are a way to help families out during this hard time.

“So with the shelves at a lot of the markets being bare, these are meals that are available to the community,” Mader said. “We are offering them at the different lunch distribution sites the school district has established, as well as the sites that Live Well Geary County has established. And, there is no there is no price to these and there also is no income requirement. The only requirement is that they’re in Geary County, and they’re hungry. So they have children aged 1 to 18, they go to one of the food distribution sites, they can get one per family.”

The important part Mader points out is that there is no income requirements. This program is for anyone who needs the extra help if they cannot find items on the shelves when they go to the store.

“This is not a low income family problem,” she said. “The pandemic that is going on, it is an everybody problem, it is a community problem. And so these meal kits regardless of how much you make, or how much you don’t make if you are struggling, whether it’s due to to be laid off because of the situation that is going on, or if you’re in quarantine. Or if just you couldn’t get to the store and the shelves are bare when you did get to the store. That’s what these meals are here for us to cover you for at night so that’s one less stress that you have.

“This is not a pack your house full of groceries meal,” she added. “This is a stretch meal. This is something to get you through the night, so you can think about tomorrow.”

What started out as making 100 to 150 meals a week to support the food distribution sites in town has turned into more than 900 meals a week, Mader said. The problem lies in the fact the United Way uses the same shelves to shop on that community members do and they are in need of more items to help fill the void.

“We are shopping from the same shelves that the community is shopping from,” Mader said. “And so, we don’t want to deplete the quantity that is out there. When I do go shopping, if they have a case on the shelf, I’m not taking that whole case, because I know there’s families that need it. At the same time, that does restrict us as to what we can purchase.” (SEE GRAPHIC FOR LIST OF ITEMS NEEDED)

“So, if you have elbow macaroni or if you have macaroni and cheese, if you have any type of dry beans or canned beans, we will gladly take those,” she added. “If you have boxes of rice or bags of rice. We will take those as well and we’ll even take the big bags of rice because then we measure them and separate them into a complete meal. So, by all means, if you can’t do $2 or if you can’t do $20. If you have canned goods or if you have stuff, sitting in your house that, you know, we can use, bring them down — we’d appreciate them.”

Items can be dropped off at the United Way Junction City-Geary County office, 139 E. 8th St., Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We do ask that in order in keeping with accordance with the CDC, that we don’t have 20 people show up at once to do drop offs or do donations,” she said. “So, if you do show up and there seems to be a large quantity of people here, if you want, you can call us on the office phone 785-238-2117 and let us know that you’re outside. We’ll actually come to your vehicle and collect the donations, so that way you don’t have to expose yourself as well.”

Mader said she appreciates her board of director members for their support and words of encouragement through this time, the businesses and community members who have donated items and the community members receiving the meal kits who have taken time to complete the short, online survey.

“I just know that if we come together as a community, as a state, as a nation, that we will be able to accomplish and get through this,” she said. “It may be a struggle. But, now is the time that we need to come together as neighbors and friends, and that is not more resemblance than our partnership with Live Well and the school districts. If it wasn’t for them reaching out, this partnership would not be possible. Every little part of that is so important. And so, I cannot say thank you enough for all of the little pieces and big pieces that have come together for this.”

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