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Kansas Food Bank predicts new assistance record

Published on -11/11/2013, 1:17 PM

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- The number of hungry children who receive weekend backpacks from the Kansas Food Bank is expected to break a record set last year as the charity continues to extend its reach outside of Wichita.

The Food Bank is currently giving food for the weekend to 6,352 schoolchildren every week in Wichita and the counties it serves in Kansas, The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/17P9mpD) reported.

Of those, 1,223 backpacks went to children in 67 Wichita schools, said Larry Gunkel, a Food Bank representative who runs the Food 4 Kids program in that city.

The backpack program was created nine years ago after educators realized many children were not eating on weekends, surviving only on what they got at breakfast and lunch at school.

The Food Bank was giving out food backpacks to 7,158 children each week by the end of last school year, which was a record, Gunkel said.

That number is expected to reach 7,500 to 8,000 schoolchildren by the end of this school year.

"Mind-boggling, isn't it?" Gunkel said.

The Food Bank and other Wichita charities have seen a steady increase in poverty and hunger in recent years as parts of the state continue recovering from the recession. While the numbers of children in poverty are holding steady in Wichita, they are rising outside the city, he said.

The Food Bank has offered the backpack program since its director, Brian Walker, and his staff created it in 2004. The program cooperates closely with the coordinators in schools -- educators and social workers, Gunkel said.

"I'm proud of the coordinators, because they not only do a good job in identifying needs but work hard to make sure none of this becomes an entitlement program," he said. "Every child we help is evaluated carefully in the schools for real need."

The program provides backpacks of food on Fridays to students identified by school staff as chronically hungry. Teachers and school social workers have told the Food Bank for years that some of their students often don't get anything to eat outside of school breakfasts and lunches.

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