Story published: Friday, Jul. 27, 2012

The Olathe News

Hunger doesn’t break for summer, and neither do Joco pantries

The Olathe News

Hunger doesn’t get the attention in summer that it does during the holiday season, but plenty of Johnson County food pantries are still working to bring in donations and pass them out to needy neighbors.

Many of them focus on people who live nearby, but other pantries reach out to particular groups, including immigrants and families who need kosher food.

Pastor Michel Borchardt and members of All Nations Church in Merriam recognized the need in their own city, so they established the All Nations Community Food Pantry last October.

“In our immediate area, there is not another food pantry,” he said. “And trying to serve a radius of people, we certainly don’t want to overlap (with other pantries) but unfortunately I’ve heard it said that like McDonald’s, you can almost have a food pantry every mile and it still probably wouldn’t be enough.”

Borchardt said more people visit his church’s pantry each week.

“We try to be as generous as possible with what resources we have but what we’re finding is that it’s just not enough,” he said. “We don’t see any letdown in terms of the need.”

Some food pantries in the area are prepared to handle diverse needs.

The Olathe Community Food Pantry offers assistance in Spanish and also has hearing impaired volunteers on staff.

“We could not work without (Spanish-speaking volunteers),” said pantry co-coordinator Kathy Gaumer, who noted that 80 percent of the organization’s clientele speaks Spanish.

Yachad Kosher Food Pantry in Overland Park distributes only kosher foods but will give it to anyone in need without income guidelines.

“If you need food then you should be able to just get it,” said Rabbi Mendy Wineberg of Chabad House Center of Kansas City, which houses the food pantry.

As the only kosher food pantry in the area, Yachad serves a larger radius than most Johnson County pantries do. Sherrill Parkhurst, co-director of the pantry, said its clientele has greatly increased in the past two to three years, particularly during the summer.

Summer — when kids are out of school — and the beginning the year — when holiday donations are gone — are two of the most difficult periods for the food pantry at Catholic Charities in Overland Park, said volunteer manager Lee Weigel.

“In the summertime the demand goes up and at the same time, from our standpoint, the donations go down,” he said. “When we have food drives, like at churches, the attendance is usually down in the summertime.”

According to United Community Services of Johnson County, the number of students in all Johnson County school districts who received free or reduced lunches increased 37.4 percent over five years.

Karen Wulfkuhle, executive director of the United Community Services of Johnson County, said some schools offer children lunches during the summer through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, but it is not enough.

“(The program) does help families, but it certainly does not take care of all their nutritional needs and food,” she said.

Ellen Feldhausen, director of communications for Harvesters — The Community Food Network, said no single agency or federal program can solve the problem of hunger.

“It takes everyone working together to feed the hungry people in our community,” she said.