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Kidzpacks faces struggles providing food for students in need

Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 6:15 PM CST
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QUINCY (WGEM) - A program that makes sure Quincy students in need have food available on weekends is facing a perfect storm of troubles.

Kidzpacks sends two lunch items and two snack items home with about 1,000 students in Quincy Public Schools every week, but finding those items in stores has become more difficult.

“One of the biggest struggles right now would be the shortages of quantities of food at the stores,” said Kidzpacks director Jessica Dedert. “They don’t even know what they are going to be getting on a daily basis. So in the past, where I’ve been able to order specific amounts at stores, I cannot do that at the moment.”

The shortages have been wide-ranging, Dedert said.

“There are shortages of all of our main items which would be peanut butter, crackers, even some of the oatmeal and the ramen noodles and the cereal bars and things,” she said. “I just never know when I’m going to go into the store and what’s going to be on the shelves. So that has been a struggle trying to piece together things.”

At Baldwin Elementary School, Principal Jim Sohn said about 175 students take home food each week. That’s about one-third of the school’s students.

“Some students like to get that bag right away on Friday and start tearing into it and some can do a pretty good job of spacing it out over the weekend and using opportunities for the entire family,” Sohn said.

He said having nourishment available for students over the weekend can directly affect their education.

“Whatever we can do to help them a little bit over the weekend, ring them back Monday morning, just a little bit extra nourishment is a positive,” Sohn said.

Dedert said the shortages have made it difficult to piece together bags for students.

“Usually, most of the bags have looked the same in the past,” Dedert said. “This year, they don’t necessarily look the same. All the students are still getting two items for breakfast, two items for lunch and two items for snack. They just don’t necessarily look the same, which is not necessarily a bad thing.”

SEEKING DONATIONS

In addition to shortages in stores, the program also is seeing a shortage of cash.

Dedert said it normally costs between $80 and $100 per student each year.

“We currently have around 1,000 students on the program,” she said. “And so if you do $100 times 1,000 students, that’s $100,000 for the program. Currently I would say we are sitting at roughly $40,000.”

The lack of funding becomes especially problematic as the program faces climbing prices attributed to the shortages.

“In the past, we’ve been able to run the program somewhere between 80 to $100 per student is our estimate each year,” Dedert said. “That works out to be somewhere between two to $3 per weekend, which then when you break it down per item is quite small. A lot of our items we can get in the past for anywhere between 15 and 32 cents. That’s kind of our bottom line. When you start looking at things that are 50, 60, 70, 80 cents apiece.”

GROWING NEED

An increase in the number of students in need because of the pandemic also has put a strain on Kidzpacks, which QPS Food Service Director Jean Kinder says the program plays a vital role in students’ education.

“Well, kids basic needs have to be met before that they can learn anything or be educated,” Kinder said. “I mean, you can’t come to school hungry. You can’t be cold and learn all the things because otherwise you’re going to be focusing on those other things.”

Kinder said that because of the pandemic, the federal government has provided free meals during the school day for all students, regardless of family income.

“But I mean, once again, that doesn’t take care of the weekend,” she said.

Dedert said Kidzpacks has worked to help ease the COVID-related burdens many families have faced.

“With COVID parents have either lost jobs or maybe they had to take time off because they were sick or the students had to be home,” Dedert said. “Whatever the circumstances, it just seems like there are more and more creeping into that free and reduced, you know, program margins.”

The program currently serves students enrolled in the free lunch program, but Dedert would like to expand to include students in the reduced-price lunch program, as well.

“We know that sometimes just that little bit helps keep those families from needing bigger services down the road,” she said.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

In addition to financial contributions, Kidzpacks also is in need of volunteer labor.

Dedert said the group packs about 1,000 bags for students every Thursday at Baldwin Elementary School. Those bags are then delivered to schools throughout the district for distribution Friday morning.

“We pack every single week,” Dedert said.

The efforts go much deeper, though, as help is needed shopping, keeping track of inventory, soliciting donations and thanking donors.

“We need people to help just get the word out to about the program,” Dedert said. “We can use people to help unload the items when we get them here from deliveries and pack our food pantry.”

Dedert said the group is in need of team leaders who help coordinate groups of volunteers for packing efforts.

“Currently we have four, so it takes care of each week of the month,” she said. “But it is nice to have extra to just substitute in when the main people cannot be here.”

She said packing is a great way for organizations to provide community service.

ONE LESS WORRY

While Kidzpacks was started to provide weekend food for students in the free lunch program, Dedert said it’s important to remember the group works to provide for any student in need.

“Each school does have the discretion if there’s a family in desperate need to let me know,” she said. “And we just go ahead and do that, of course, no questions asked. But students should just not have to worry about where their food is coming from especially when they leave school over the weekend.”

Kinder said students in need often already have enough to worry about.

“Some of these kids don’t go home to places with refrigerators,” Kinder said. “Some of these kids don’t go to home to places with stoves, or running water. And so this at least gets them by until they can come back to school on Monday and get breakfast and lunch.”

HOW TO HELP

Monetary donations to the Kidzpacks program may be mailed to Kidzpacks, P.O. Box 563, Quincy, IL 62305.

Checks should be made payable to Kidzpacks.

Food donations can be dropped off at Baldwin Elementary School, 3000 Maine St.

Donations can be tax deductible.

More information is available by calling 217-440-9634.

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