By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY – Harvesters Community Food Network, was recently named the 2011 Food Bank of the Year by Feeding America, the nation’s food bank network. The national award recognizes each year the outstanding food bank in the U.S. that exemplifies the highest standards in fulfilling its mission to feed the hungry. The network encompasses more than 200 food banks serving all 50 states.
Real hunger is not just the stomach rumbling, go grab a snack kind of hungry. Real hunger is knowing there is no food in the home – nothing to grab for a snack.
Usually when people think of the hungry, they imagine homeless men and women lined up at a soup kitchen. Harvesters helps feed 66,000 people every week and half of those are children or seniors. Many are working poor people – 40 percent of the households served have at least one person working. In this region, large numbers of families turn to Harvesters for help.
Harvesters is a regional food bank that serves a 26-county area in Northwest Missouri and Eastern Kansas The food bank collects, warehouses and distributes food through a network of more than 620 nonprofit emergency food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, daycare centers and residences in the region.
“We have always known we live in the most generous community in the nation,” said Karen Haren, President & Chief Executive Officer of Harvesters. “Now everyone knows it! The Food Bank of the Year award, given to Harvesters last month by Feeding America, belongs to our dedicated supporters who give food, time, money and voice to help us feed hungry families.”
Harvesters was founded in 1979 by a group of concerned individuals who saw food going to waste at the same time people in Kansas City were going hungry. They were in the vanguard of the mushrooming food bank movement. Father Pat Tobin, senior priest in service at St. Therese Parish north, was one of the founders and still serves on the board of directors of the food bank. Harvesters is a certified member of Feeding America.
In giving the award, Feeding America recognized Harvesters for increasing access to nutritious food across the region it serves, for being only one of two food banks in this country to earn a superior rating for food safety from AIB International and for significantly increasing knowledge and awareness of hunger in the Kansas City community.
The population of Missouri is about 5,988,927, and approximately 13.7 percent of the population lives in poverty. A disturbing statistic is the food insecurity rate. About 16.8 percent of Missouri residents are never certain as to when and where their next meal will be, and of those, about 23.2 percent are children.
Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America, described Harvesters as “an amazing voice of hunger relief.” The ongoing recession has driven up the number of people seeking emergency food assistance. This need prompted Harvesters to do several things to reach more families, including opening a second facility in Topeka. The BackSnack program, which provides a backpack full of child-friendly, nutritious food for school children to take home on weekends, has more than doubled in the past three years, from serving 650 students weekly to more than 13,500. Harvesters held 3,300 community food drives in 2010, and hosted almost 57,000 volunteer visits to raise awareness of the need for food in the region.
In the past year, Harvesters 102 employees distributed 36.5 million pounds of food and household supplies to 176 emergency food pantries, 17 soup kitchens, four shelters, 26 residences, 14 day care centers and eight senior centers. One hundred ninety three multi-service agencies, nine rehabilitation programs, 11 youth programs, and 135 other programs also received food assistance.
Harvesters has four key initiatives directed toward alleviating hunger in the community. Those initiatives include the Childhood Hunger Initiative; the Feeding Families Initiative; the Healthy Eating Initiative and the Senior Feeding Initiative. The Childhood Hunger Initiative provides food for children after school, on weekends and during the summers at Kids Café sites or through take home backpacks. Kids in the Kitchen teaches children about nutrition and how to prepare healthy snacks. Food pantries and on-site programs feed as many as 66,000 people weekly in the Feeding Families Initiative, and a mobile pantry delivers fresh produce and other foods regularly to designated agencies in the region. Holiday meals are provided to needy families and individuals during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Low income and homebound seniors receive perishable, wholesome foods delivered by the Senior Mobile Food Pantry to senior housing sites through the Senior Feeding Initiative. Project Strength is an 8-week adult nutrition and meal preparation curriculum taught through the Healthy Eating Initiative. Recipients learn about wholesome choices and shopping for and creating healthy meals with limited resources. At the end of each class, participants receive a complimentary sack of groceries from Harvesters.
Plant a Row for the Hungry encourages local gardeners to plant an extra row of fruits or vegetables and donate the produce to Harvesters. Food Rescue links restaurants and cafeterias that donate nutritious, prepared foods with on-site feeding programs including homeless shelters, domestic violence and low-income day care centers.
Harvesters has partnered with Sprint for more than 20 years to feed the hungry, and Feeding America recognized the telecommunications giant by awarding it the 2011 Hunger’s Hope Award for Group Volunteer Service. The company and staff have supported Harvesters with gifts of food, funds and time. Kansas City area Sprint employees have volunteered nearly 17,000 hours with Harvesters and employee food and fund drives provided 660,000 meals to needy families in the past two decades.
Both awards were presented in mid-April during Feeding America’s annual conference in Nevada.
Visit the Web site www.harvesters.org for more information, to donate or to volunteer.