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Mayor Asks City’s Help in Feeding Hungry Kids

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By Roy Wenzl

Published by The Wichita Eagle, Sept. 19, 2009

Every Monday at Colvin Elementary School,  Principal Karen Whittle walks past a sight that touches her deeply no matter how many times she sees it. Kids at her school, hundreds of them, stand in a line that snakes outside the doors, even on days when it rains. The school breakfast line. She’s asked many of these kids whether they got anything to eat during the weekend. Many tell her no.

 At schools all over the Wichita school district, Mondays are when hundreds of kids show up famished, with the headaches, stomachaches and sullen behavior that happens when they go Saturdays and Sundays without food. At the Kansas Food Bank on Friday, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer stepped up to a microphone and said he used to be one of them.

 Brewer said he and employees in City Hall will raise money from their own pockets and from friends and business people around town to “adopt” the kids at Colvin and Stanley elementary schools. Council member Sue Schlapp said she’d already raised enough and pledged enough of her own to adopt the kids at Clark Elementary.

 They will give enough to the Food Bank to give backpacks of food every Friday to kids to take home to tide them over the Saturdays and Sundays when they don’t eat.

 Brewer said he had a suggestion for the people who he says have questioned whether hunger among children actually exists on the scale that the Food Bank and the Wichita school district say it does:  as many as 7,000 children throughout Wichita.

“I am here to tell you that that hunger among those children does exist,” he said. “And anybody who doesn’t believe it, I’d be glad to show it to them myself.”

 He said he grew up one of those kids, decades ago when there was no Food Bank. He went frequently without meals, or ate meals that consisted of a slice of bread.

 The Food Bank is a charity that obtains food at an extremely reduced rate and dispenses it to dozens of food pantries all over Wichita and much of Kansas. But Food Bank staff member Larry Gunkel also runs Food 4 Kids, which puts free backpacks in the hands of 1,300 schoolchildren in more than 60 Wichita schools.

 Finding money to keep the backpack program has been a chore for the charity, and that prompted Brewer and Schlapp to come Friday and issue what Brewer called “a call to action” to other public and private organizations to adopt more schools and help the program. Schlapp said she will ask every City Council member to adopt one school and raise the money to feed its backpack kids.

 Whittle, the Colvin principal, said Food Bank backpacks have enhanced education; backpack kids study and concentrate better on Mondays having eaten the previous two days.

 But the program, Whittle said, identifies only the neediest of the needy; at least 75 kids at Colvin qualify for the program, (there were 92 last year), but she said there is plenty of evidence at the school that far more kids eat only when they eat at school.

 Whittle and Kristi Franks, principal of Stanley Elementary School, told Brewer and Schlapp after their announcement that they’ve seen alarming things since the economy worsened. More hungry kids come to school, but some kids now tell school staff they are living in dwellings where utilities have been shut off.

 Food Bank officials say it costs $120 to send a weekend’s worth of food home with each child for a year. So that will mean that Brewer and city employees will be raising $16,000 in private money to give backpacks to Stanley and Colvin.

 Schlapp said she’s seen the mayor encounter kids, find out they missed several meals, and give them money out of his own wallet. Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com.