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Friday, Oct. 12, 2012

Johnson County | New community food pantry opens soon

Jewish Family Services fills need with new community pantry

Despite about 600 pantries in the KC area, the number of families needing help continues to overwhelm supply.

The Olathe News

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How to help Donations of food and other items, as well as volunteers, are always welcome at Jewish Family Services of Kansas City’s new food pantry. Diapers and other paper products are sorely needed because they’re not covered by food stamps. For more information or to volunteer, call 913-327-8250.

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Even in affluent Johnson County, adults struggle to pay their grocery bills and many children go to bed hungry.

Don Goldman, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City, knows that because the Johnson County families his agency helps with rent and utilities often say their cupboards are bare and they have no money for food, either.

“We know the need exists. The need has been growing,” Goldman told a gathering of about 40 people Sunday as Jewish Family Services launched the community’s latest food pantry, located on the Jewish Community Center campus, 5801 W. 115th St. in Overland Park.

JFS, which serves people in Johnson and Jackson counties, gets more than 200 calls per month from families in crisis that need assistance.

Families struggle to make their food stamps last a whole month. Low-income families that don’t qualify for food stamps sometimes skip meals. In the past, JFS hasn’t been able to do much about that problem.

With the recession, the situation has worsened in the past five years. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates about 36,000 people in Johnson County, or 6.6 percent of the population, lived below the poverty level in 2011. That included 12,300 children. About 103,000 people, or 19 percent, were considered low income in 2011, including 33,150 children.

The Kansas City area already has about 600 food pantries, but it’s still not enough, Goldman said. Some food pantries struggle for donations and always have more requests than supplies. Meanwhile, many Jewish Family Services agencies around the country already have food pantries, so Goldman is gratified that the JFS of Greater Kansas City can finally do the same.

Donations for the pantry have poured in over the past few weeks from just a handful of Johnson County Jewish congregations. Goldman said he expects those donations to increase as more congregations get involved, and the pantry should open to needy families in three weeks.

A satellite pantry is expected to open by the end of this year at the JFS offices in Jackson County, 9233 Ward Parkway. Both will allow families to shop, by appointment. Goldman expects “hundreds of people” will be served over the course of a year. Many families served are not Jewish, but part of the food pantry will be kosher.

This food pantry project is especially blessed, Goldman said, to have forged a partnership with a nearby community garden that will provide fresh vegetables for much of the year. On Sunday, giant, newly harvested sweet potatoes and big peppers filled boxes that had been brought from the Mitzvah Garden, located a few blocks away at 124th Street and Nall Avenue.

Mitzvah Garden has more than 15,000 square feet of space and grows nearly 5,000 pounds of vegetables, of all types, from April to November. It has numerous volunteers and in the past has contributed food to a few assistance centers in Missouri and to Yachad Kosher Food Pantry in Overland Park.

But the garden produces enough vegetables to supply JFS pantry and is glad to do that, Mitzvah Garden founder Ken Sonnenschein said Sunday.

“It’s great in every way,” Sonnenschein said of this joint initiative with JFS.

JFS also will partner with Liberty Fruit for fresh fruits and vegetables year round, Goldman said.

The food pantry project was made possible in part through a $28,000 grant from United Way, which paid for shelving and refrigerators and provides some money to buy food.

On Sunday, visitors to the new pantry space were excited.

Wendy Woolford and her 8-year-old daughter, Eme, looked at one room filled with food donations. Woolford said she’s been to other pantries that were hurting for supplies, and she’s seen people line up at dawn for food.

“It’s a great thing for the community to start this,” she said.

Woolford noted that Eme’s ninth birthday is coming up in November, and she already plans to do her part.

“For her birthday, she’s going to collect food donations at her party instead of getting presents,” Woolford said. “Then we’ll come here and help sort.”

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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