By ROSEANNE SUTTON
Organizers are seeking donations so that a backpack program called “Food 4 Kids” in Pawhuska, which began during 2010 summer school and continues through the end of the school year, will be able to continue.
The program provides shelf-stable snacks to 42 children in kindergarten through third grades, who attend Pawhuska Elementary School.
Coordinator Kacee Poteet said, “We’re looking for annual sponsorships which will help sustain the program for the entire year, including summer school,” Poteet explained.
A recent story on 60 Minutes about childhood hunger in the United States underscored the problem. When children come to school hungry, they cannot concentrate or learn effectively. Plus, hunger hurts. Many children go to the school nurse with pains, which are hunger related, Poteet said.
According to Pawhuska Elementary School Principal Beverly Moore, the poverty rate is 77 percent, which is a strong indicator that children in Pawhuska need this program.
It costs just $150 for the 40-44 week school year to adopt a child and the donation is tax deductible, Poteet said.
Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Osage County, Christi McNeil, wanted to lend her support to the Food 4 Kids project. McNeil provided much-needed space for food storage in the Cedar Ridge safe room closet in a temperature controlled environment, which gives the food a longer shelf life.
“Three pallets [of food] fit into the closet of the safe room,” Poteet said.
In addition, approximately 20 Cedar Ridge seniors volunteer at the safe room to assemble the bags of food weekly.
Another volunteer who is central to the project is Jenny Perrier. Poteet said of Perrier, “I couldn’t do it without her.”
Perrier shared her thoughts about the collaboration of efforts which make the project happen. “I think this is an intergenerational thing — the older people helping the younger people.”
She added, “The school kids at Indian Camp School adopt the [Cedar Ridge] residents at Christmas, so the residents want to give back.”
Poteet and Perrier want the program to continue next year and grow. “We want this to be a program that lasts long after us,” Perrier said. “It just serves kindergarten through third grade now. There are others who ask if there are bags for their older siblings too,” Perrier said. For now, the program only serves four grades, but Perrier and Poteet look forward to a time when this can be expanded to serve grades pre-k through twelve.
Donations by civic groups and individuals are welcome. “It would be nice if civic organizations would say they’re going to give a certain amount each year,” Poteet said.
“If there’s any way we can continue, we’d like to,” Poteet said.
The Backpacks 4 Kids program gets its food at a much lower cost by buying in bulk from the Eastern Food Bank of Oklahoma at their on-line website, Poteet said. In fact, some items are offered free from the food bank, including fresh fruit. The program provides non-perishable food items, which the children can prepare themselves.
The food items include things like: pudding cups, raisins, beans and franks in pop-top cans, cereal in individual servings and juice boxes. Peanut products are not used due to the risk of allergies.
Students participating in the program are told they have won a prize in a drawing and are given drawstring backpacks, which on Fridays were filled with food to last through the weekend.
On the Friday before spring break, the students were given double portions of food in their backpacks to help over the week-long holiday.
If the children forget the backpacks, they still get the food in plastic grocery-style bags.
Parents are notified in writing, and are able to opt out if they do not want the food for their children.
Children are chosen to be included in the program based on information from various public agencies, which serve low-income families, such as Department of Human Services and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).
The Edwin Fair Community Mental Health Clinic receives the donations on behalf of the Food 4 Kids program because it is set up as a non-profit 501c(3) program, Poteet explained.
Donations are made payable to Edwin Fair with “Food 4 Kids program” listed on the memo line of the check, and may be sent to: 124 E. 6th Street, Pawhuska, OK 74056.
Recently, the Pawhuska Elementary School began accepting the donations on behalf of Edwin Fair.
For more information about donating or volunteering, call Kacee Poteet at 918-287-5266. This number accepts voice messages.
Look for another story, coming soon, about Agape’ Mission’s Food 4 Kids program in Bartlesville, now in its fifth year.