By Lauren Elizabeth Kratz, Special to the Circuit.
More than 600 students in Atchison do not have enough to eat. In fact, Atchison is in one of the poorest counties in Kansas and has been battling food insecurity for decades, according to a Social Justice Week presentation at Benedictine College.
According to Nichole Honeywell, assistant principal at Atchison Elementary, 70 percent of the 900 students in the district receive free or reduced lunches.
“Think about emotional and mental state,” she said. “It is hard to be productive at all. If they want to have a better future, they can’t be hungry.”
Honeywell was part of a Feb. 13 panel that discussed food insecurity in Atchison in a presentation called “The Local Reality of Food Insecurity.”
The panel consisted of: Honeywell; Dr. Richard Coronado, Professor and Chair of Economics; Linda Stecher, director of Atchison County Food Pantry; and Jerica Owens, a case manager at Atchison Community Health Clinic.
Owens, Coronado and Honeywell agree that education is the key to lasting change in local food insecurity.
“Educating the children is the long-term solution,” Coronado said.
He helped establish the Hunger Coalition in 1984 after a recession in the Atchison area. The program began with 20 student volunteers and has since grown to over 400.
The organization’s volunteers tutor elementary and middle school children in the district and gather, package and deliver food for local people in need through Skip-a-Meal, students who forgo Wednesday dinners to provide for the community.
Coronado said students are welcome to join Skip-a-Meal any time during the semester. Despite the efforts of programs like the Hunger Coalition, however, many residents still don’t have enough to eat.
Owens has witnessed the consequences of food insecurities on health. Diabetes and high blood pressure are common as a lack of food and knowledge about food preparation, she said.
“A solution is more education to the kids in general who can in turn educate their parents,” Owens said. “They need education to know what’s best for them.”
Resources like the Hunger Coalition and Atchison County Food Pantry are available for those in need of immediate help. Any Atchison County resident is welcome at the food pantry with no income requirement. Clients must bring identification, Social Security card and proof they live in Atchison County.
To volunteer or donate to the Atchison County Food Pantry, call 913-367-3036.