The summer meal programs which keep thousands of children and families fed in Geary County have come to a close.

Shannon Rosauer of Live Well Geary County helped coordinate the program this year, which was put on with help from Unified School District 475.

About 8,584 meals were served in total at every meal site this year.

Each day meals were served, about 26 volunteers offered at least an hour and a half of their time, according to Rosauer. Over the course of the summer, more than 70 people volunteered 1332 hours to keeping local children fed.

Multiple businesses and people donated money and food to the program.

This year was different from some previous ones, with freshly prepared meals being provided as opposed to shelf-stable goods.

The hot meals were a big hit with attendees.

“We actually had to close our Playground Park site early last summer because no one was coming,” Rosauer said. “Last summer also happened to be the last time that we served pre-fixed, shelf stable meals. Those were a great way to get our program started and I think we’ll always be grateful for having those available. They were a great way to get going in the community.”

However, she said, her group is constantly looking to branch out and improve.

“Last summer, we dipped our toe in the water of making our own meals,” Rosauer said. “We tried it out at Grandview Plaza community center for the neighborhood and there and it went really well.”

Live Well Geary County realized, she said, that serving hot meals was doable and that it went over well with the community.

“First Presbyterian Church really does the heavy lifting on that,” Rosauer said.

The church helped with food preparation and storage.

The summer meal program served items such as sloppy joes, nachos, hot dogs, and sandwiches alongside fresh fruit and veggies.

“We managed to serve hot food even in Playground Park,” Rosauer said. “With an extension cord and a crock pot, hot food — it can be done.”

The program served meals from at least one site from the last week of May until Aug. 2.

Unlike many summer meal programs across the country which see lower attendance in July, Rosauer said, this year the most popular site — the Dorothy Bramlage Public Library — didn’t see a downturn at any point during the summer.

Likewise, the Playground Park site attracted a lot of children, as opposed to last year.

Rosauer feels it speaks to the constant need for food during the summers in Junction City.

Joe Handlos, chair of Live Well Geary County, said he was proud of what the group had accomplished.

The program, he said, was started to tackle food insecurity in Geary County, which is the highest in the state.

Child food insecurity “is not unique here, but it is especially true here,” Handlos said.

“Back in 1948, we had 34 different grocery stores,” he said. “Like many communities, that number has kind of dwindled. But they were all over Geary County. So as they fell away, then we had food deserts that developed as a result.”

This includes any area that doesn’t have a grocery store selling fresh produce within a mile of it — Grandview Plaza, the Westwood neighborhood, and those on Grant Avenue are all considered food deserts.

Volunteer Margaret Kilpatrick was responsible for coordinating meals out of First Presbyterian Church and she helped serve food from the Grandview Plaza site.

It was a lot of work, she said, but she had many other volunteers to assist her.

She did it, she said, “because of the children.”

“We had such as nice group of kids at Grandview Plaza that would come — teenagers — and they would just sit at the table, finish their food, and visit with each other and I just loved that,” Kilpatrick said. “They’d hug you. That’s why you don’t mind doing it. It’s all worth it.”

She found there was a lot of need in that community, but also a lot of willingness to help — and, among patrons, a willingness to try new things.

“We experimented with things like broccoli, cauliflower, and cucumbers and they loved it,” Kilpatrick said. “I was glad to see them eating those vegetables.”

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