Panel discusses hunger in Atchison

Benedictine held a discussion panel concerning hunger in the Atchison area as part of Social Justice Week.  Photo by Brooke Cagle, Unsplash.

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.