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City hopes to feed 150 kids every day during summer

Staff writer

Sometimes success is about who you know, not what you know. If the program for which Marion is seeking volunteers ends up feeding 150 kids nutritionally balanced meals every weekday this summer, Gene Winkler can consider himself successful.

Winkler’s half-sister Deb Kreutzman works for the Wichita Food Bank, and she was looking for communities to participate in No Kid Hungry. The federally funded program provides schoolchildren free meals that meets federal nutrition standards once a day during times when there is no school.

Winkler, a member of Marion Kiwanis Club and Marion Advancement Campaign, was the perfect person to know.

“The money’s there, the food’s there, it’s just a matter of getting people to take the time to get out and get it to the kids,” Winkler said.

Winkler brought up the idea at a MAC meeting and with Kiwanis, and word spread quickly. City Administrator Roger Holter is trying to find volunteers to run the program from May 25 to July 31.

No Kid Hungry is a national program, and Kansas ranks 50th among the states in participation.

“They haven’t gotten the word out and got the groups to participate,” Winkler said. “I just think it was not pushed enough to get it out there where people know about it. Marion, Peabody, and Centre are prequalified.”

The program operates by school district, and Winkler said 40 percent of a district’s students must qualify for free or reduced lunch to prequalify for the program. Nonprequalifying districts must show a certain percentage of low-income housing within the community to participate. Winkler said Hillsboro could likely qualify in that way.

Winkler went to Wichita to meet with the food bank there, which will provide the meals for the kids. Volunteers will be responsible for providing fresh fruit with every meal, about 750 pieces of fruit in a week, and $200 a week for a free swim day on Thursdays during the program.

“I applaud Gene Winkler for doing all the groundwork on getting this established, and I think it’ll be a good service to provide,” USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker said.

Leiker said the school district will be assisting the volunteer efforts. Holter said a group of city employees will volunteer. Winkler confirmed Kiwanis’ commitment to volunteering. The county agreed to provide volunteer at its Friday meeting.

“We’ll cover it one way or the other,” Winkler said. “Whether we have to have one person volunteer to do it three or four days, or if I have to go up there and stay every day or something. We’ll get her going.”

Holter said individuals have expressed interest in volunteering whenever needed. He has reached out to several businesses, seeking their involvement, he said.

Holter said that the program is not official until the volunteer slots have been filled and the money to purchase fruit and fund swimming days has been raised. He said he’s very confident it will fill up.

Leiker said the number of students on free or reduced lunch in the area has increased in recent years. Those families benefit from having nutritious meals provided at school, and miss that in the summer.

“Data across the state indicates that balanced meals are harder to come by for some families, and so I think there is a need that can be filled with a program like this in any community,” Leiker said.

The summer program will not be tied to income, however. Anyone up to 18 years of age can participate and receive a free meal. The program is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture, which provides the meals, but not the fruit or the “swim scholarships,” which Holter said was added on to the local program.

“It’ll create a memory for the kids, and it’s also an incentive to participate,” he said.

In all, Marion has to provide at least three volunteers a day, $200 of “swim scholarship” money, and 750 pieces of fruit for each of the 10 weeks.

Carlsons’ Grocery in Marion has arranged for special bulk discounts on fruit for the program, Holter said Tuesday in an email.

“I had a lady call me and say, ‘I don’t have kids in school, but if you tell me what days I can go down and help, I’ll go and serve,’” Holter said. “I think we’ve got a great community, and they’ll come together and get the resources we need.”

Last modified Feb. 5, 2015

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