by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor
In Platte County, 13.8 percent of the population is food insecure, according to a study by Harvesters--The Community Food Network.
That means 12,500 Platte County residents may have food today but are uncertain where and when their next meal may come.
Among those most in need are children. Sarah Biles, director of communication with Harvesters, said 3,760 children in Platte County are food insecure. That is 17 percent of the children in the county.
Locally, Harvesters, a regional food bank spanning a 26-county area in northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas, has been trying to eradicate hunger for the past 36 years.
“Harvesters knows that when people have access to healthy, nutritious food, children do better in school, adults perform better at work, and seniors are able to live independently in their homes longer,” said Biles.
Today, Harvesters provides food assistance to those who are most in need through a program dubbed BackSnacks. It is a program where school age children pick up backpacks of food from their elementary school to take home and consume over the weekends. Harvesters actively serves 21 schools across Platte County.
“Nearly half of those Harvesters serves are seniors and children,” said Biles.
In a cooperative effort aimed at reaching those who need help putting food on the table, Harvesters teamed up with several agencies in Platte County, including a senior center, five food pantries, and two shelters protecting children and women who have suffered abuse or neglect.
To expedite the process of transporting perishable food items including fresh produce and dairy, Harvesters has a mobile food pantry where a Harvesters' volunteer drives a food truck to a designated location to allow families, individuals, and seniors to pick up a bag of food.
All of their cohesive efforts seem to be working. Between July 1, 2014 and April 2015, Harvesters distributed nearly 650,000 lbs. of food to agencies in Platte County, according to Harvesters.
Providing this essential service takes a team effort. Anand Patel, general manager of La Quinta Inn & Suites KC Airport, is an example of someone who has gone above and beyond organizing a local food drive to benefit Harvesters.
For the past two years, Patel has displayed a number of Harvesters' barrels inside the hotel lobby for a period of one week to remind guests and hotel associates of the food assistance program.
“Usually when guests see the barrels they immediately head to the grocery store to pick up a few items and guests traveling with food typically donate a few non-perishable items,” said Patel.
Recently, Patel's good deed was paid forward at a local grocery store. When Patel purchased non-perishable items from Hen House, the grocery store gave him a 10 percent discount on all food going to Harvesters.
“Our goal is to fill four Harvesters barrels. Last year, we filled two barrels—donating hundreds of dollars to Harvesters. Next year, we hope to fill six barrels,” said Patel.
The La Quinta Inn & Suites also offered a trade-out with Heartland Regional MG—a car show in Parkville—for their assistance in filling four Harvester barrels.
“As a 'thank you' for bringing in donations we will allow them to throw a barbecue in the hotel parking lot,” he said.
“Reaching out this way allows us to impact more people,” he added. “I feel like this is the least we can do.”
Statewide, 17 percent of people struggle to put food on the table and 21.6 percent of children in Missouri are food insecure.
Hunger exists nearly everywhere.
“We know there are hungry families, children, and seniors, living in every county in this country. They're in rural areas, suburban areas, and urban areas,” said Biles.
Across the 26-county area—10 in northwest Missouri and 16 in northeast Kansas— there are 127,190 children who are food insecure.
The families who depend on food pantries and meal service programs are hard working families, including military families.
“Many of the people Harvesters helps feed are low-income working families who just aren't earning enough to make ends meet,” said Biles.
Across the 26-county area, 27 percent of households Harvesters serves have at least one member in the family who has served in the military and seven percent of households have at least one member actively serving in the military, said Biles.
Military families and others are forced to make a trade off due to their current financial situation.
“Families and seniors in need are making very tough choices about whether to pay utilities…pay the rent…or buy groceries,” said Biles.
Among those that Harvesters serves, 63 percent said they have had to choose between paying for utilities and purchasing groceries, 54 percent said they have had to decide between paying the rent or mortgage and buying food, and 62 percent said have had to decide between paying for medicine or medical care and purchasing groceries.
Last year, hungry people in the region missed an estimated 67.6 million meals, according to Harvesters.
Thirty-eight percent of the people they serve do not qualify for federal nutrition programs, including food stamps or the free and reduced price lunch program. Instead, they rely on regional food banks.
“These people are typically above 185 percent of the poverty level, or $44,123 for a family of four,” says Biles.
While one in seven people struggle with hunger in the 26-county area Harvesters serves, one in five children under the age of 18 is food insecure.
Working hand-in-hand with food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters, Harvesters fed 97,150 children last year.
Individuals interested in organizing a local food drive to benefit harvesters or hear more about volunteer opportunities can contact Harvesters directly or Pat Webster from South Platte Emergency Assistance Center at (816) 746-1057.
Statistics suggest that as the Baby Boomer generation ages, the number of seniors who struggle to put food on the table will increase. Food insecure seniors living in rural areas, suburban areas, and urban areas are more susceptible to health related issues including, depression and chronic diseases.
“They are 53 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack and 52 percent more likely to develop asthma,” according to statistics compiled by Harvesters.