LANCASTER TWP — While the summer months might mean a break from classes for students, it can also mean a lack of guaranteed meals for children and teenagers.
Across the country, one in five children will go hungry at some point in the year, a number that increases when school is out of session and they can no longer rely on lunches and backpack programs that provide additional meals. According to the Feeding America organization, many of these “food insecure” families do not meet requirements to receive government assistance.
The result is children who not only are hungry, but also lack the energy to take part in activities and are subject to potential health issues.
Sharon Klaiber sees those results each month. As director of the Southwest Butler Food Cupboard, she knows the challenges many families face when school lets out for the summer.
“If they're not getting that meal from the schools, then the parents are paying for that additional meal and, I'll be honest, they can't afford it,” she lamented.
In an effort to curb hunger, the organization offers the Kits4Kids Program. In its fourth year, it provides children with meals and snacks to help make their summer breaks a little more enjoyable without the burden of worrying about their next meal.
According to Klaiber, any household with a school-aged child gets one box, although households with several children get two. The boxes are filled with single-serve meals, grab-and-go items and snacks, such as granola bars and baked goods.
The boxes are distributed on the third Tuesday of each month at the organization's space inside Zion Lutheran Church. It coincides with the food pantry's regular giveaway, and each family also gets a box and three bags of food, including eggs, milk, bread and protein — such as beef and chicken.
“That is what costs the most, and that is what hurts the most at the grocery store,” Klaiber said of the meat.
During June's giveaway, organizers expected 72 households representing 200 people to show up for distribution.
“It's a significant number when you're thinking of our quaint little community that there are 200 people who are hungry who cannot meet those basic food needs,” she said.
Of those 200 people, 82 were children.
“We cannot let them be hungry,” Klaiber said.
The organization, which began in 1983, is a co-op involving several area churches, including Calvin United Presbyterian Church, English Lutheran Church, Grace Church of Harmony, Harmony-Zelienople United Methodist Church, Park United Presbyterian Church, St. Gregory Catholic Church, St. Paul Lutheran Church, St. Peter's Reformed Church and Zion Lutheran Church.
Klaiber said members of those churches volunteer each month to distribute the food, although community volunteers are always welcome.
Donations are also accepted in the form of monetary help or grocery items. Needed items include canned fruit and vegetables, canned protein, dry cereal and granola bars, dry pasta, canned soup and helper meals.