SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Over the past few days, KOLR10 News has been addressing the issue of childhood hunger here at home.
Ozarks Food Harvest is one local agency trying to turn the problem around.
30 percent of the total people the food bank serves are children.
As children swing on a playground, three of the four on a swing-set may not know one of the kids could be wondering when they’ll eat next.
“About one in four kids in the Ozarks is at risk of going hungry,” said Ozarks Food Harvest President and CEO Bart Brown.
“It’s rough,” said Shaunace Washington. “It really is.”
Washington knows what it’s like to have hungry children.
“I have seven children– six live with me– they eat a lot,” said Washington. “I’ve been days without eating because my kids need to eat.”
Even with assistance from the state, she struggles to keep a full refrigerator.
“Every month when the kids are in school– the week before food stamps come, I have nothing but canned goods,” said Washington. “I probably have chicken, it isn’t bare– but it’s still like, ‘oh my gosh, what am I gonna do?'”
That’s where agencies like Ozarks Food Harvest step in to help.
“The challenge is, we are about halfway where we need to be in order to make sure everyone is getting enough food to eat,” Brown said.
Feed, strengthen and lead– that’s the motto of Ozarks Food Harvest, as the agency tries to increase food access here in the Ozarks.
“This year, our summer program will provide about 40,000 meals to kids in the Ozarks,” Brown said.
That program provides meals to 14 sites. The weekend backpack program distributes 56,000 bags of food to 1,600 kids each week over the course of a school year.
“That’s about 7,000 meals a weekend being provided through that one program,” Brown said.
Kids in the backpack program receive six meals for the weekend– all non-perishable food items– like canned soup and veggie cups.
“All the food is easy to open with pop tops,” said Christine Temple, with Ozarks Food Harvest. “And kids don’t need to refrigerate or heat anything up– so it’s all child-friendly.”
The backpacks go out to kids at 35 Springfield schools and 26 rural schools.
“The backpack program is for kids with the most intense needs that aren’t really being supervised at home,” said Springfield Public Schools Health Services Director Jean Graybeel. “And there’s an access to food issue on weekends as far as supervision and not having the food they might need.”
There are 61 sites total throughout southwest Missouri.
“This provides meals for all over the weekend for Saturday and Sunday,” said Temple. “And a few snacks.”
Which helps ease the stress of struggling parents.
“It’s helpful– but it still runs out,” said Washington. “It’s hard during the summer, because they’re there all day long and eat 6-7 times a day.”
Which is why Ozarks Food Harvest also has a summer food program.
“Kids that are depending on school breakfast and lunches need somewhere to go in the summertime,” Brown said. “So these programs provide an important way to fill that gap.”
And Ozarks Food Harvest hopes to continue closing the gap on hunger here in the Ozarks.
“We’ve increased food access in Springfield by 70 percent over the past three years,” Brown said.
Ozarks Food Harvest has also ramped up its fresh produce distribution– making sure families in the Ozarks have access to healthy fruits and vegetables.