New Kids Link Snack Program Partnership

Junior League CroppedThe Food Bank for Larimer County and the Junior League of Fort Collins are happy to announce a new partnership to provide snacks to local schools. Since 2009, the Food Bank’s Kids Link snack program has provided shelf stable snacks to schools where more than 50% of students qualify for free and reduced meals. During the height of the recession, schools reported growing numbers of children who were receiving their only nourishment at school. Concerned teachers and staff members were purchasing snacks with their own money to support these children. To help with this critical issue, the Food Bank stepped in and allocated funding to provide healthy snacks to these schools to lessen the financial burden on teachers and ensure kids had more to eat.

The Junior League of Fort Collins began the Poudre School District snack program in 2006 in an effort to address the growing childhood hunger epidemic throughout Larimer County as part of their initiative to create opportunities for women and children to thrive. Since the program’s inception, the Junior League of Fort Collins has provided snacks each year to students at Poudre School District schools. The snacks were provided to students participating in after school enrichment programs with populations at 36% and higher qualifying for free and reduced lunch and during state testing.

“As the schools’ need for support has continued over the years, a partnership made sense,” said Amy Pezzani, Executive Director, Food Bank for Larimer County. “Working with the Junior League we are able enhance the Kids Link program by adding delivery. In the past, many qualifying schools were unable to fully take advantage of the program because of hours and location.”

Under the new partnership arrangement, the Food Bank will procure and store the snacks.  The Junior League of Fort Collins will fund the program, fill orders and deliver them to area schools. The program will continue to concentrate on providing healthy snacks to children in need so that they can stay focused. It is available to qualifying Thompson and Poudre School District schools. To be eligible, 50% or more of the school’s student population must qualify for free and reduced meals.

“We are very excited to combine the passion of our volunteer-based organization with the Food Bank for Larimer County through this new partnership,” Sarah Hunnell, President, Junior League of Fort Collins. “It is our hope that this important work will make a difference for more children in need in our community.”

Polly’s Story

Polly CroppedFor years, Polly’s business was taking care of others. She worked in assisted living centers and eventually started her own home healthcare business and cared for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Polly first started visiting the Food Bank to pick up food for her clients. She remembers how excited her patients were when she returned home with great food after “shopping” at the Food Bank. “Everyone at the Food Bank was always so friendly,” shared Polly.

Then, last year, Polly lost everything. She lost her job and her home after she could no longer care for others because Polly herself needed help. She started falling, she had tremors and she couldn’t manage the stairs. She lived in the Mission for a month until she finally confided in a friend. That friend gave Polly a place to live and hired her to do odd jobs so she could try to get back on her feet and sort out her medical issues. Eventually, Polly was diagnosed with Stage III Parkinson’s Disease. Doctors also found a brain tumor.

Until recently, medications were helping Polly manage some of her symptoms, but she still struggled with unexplained vision impairment and extreme blood pressure fluctuations. Due to her health issues, Polly was no longer able to care for others. She found a roommate and continued to work odd jobs for a while to help pay her $550 share of monthly rent. Beyond income from odd jobs, she receives $196 in SNAP benefits (food stamps) and $196 per month in additional assistance. Polly found a job at a call center, but that only lasted two days because Polly started experiencing daily seizures, sometimes two or three per day. She can longer work because of the seizures and as a result is no longer able to afford her rent. Currently, she’s living with a friend, but will have to move again in a month. She’s waiting for her application for disability to be heard, but doesn’t expect to start receiving assistance until December.

To help make ends meet, Polly visits the Food Bank. When she first became a client, rather than a “shopper” for others, she remembers how Jan, Food Share Manager, took the time to help Polly get through the line and pick out her items.

“When I first started coming to the Food Bank I was really struggling and Jan and Lynette were so compassionate and helpful.” Polly especially appreciates the fresh fruits and vegetables she’s able to get at the Food Bank. “I eat veggie based meals, healthy foods – no junk food ever – to help manage my Parkinson’s symptoms,” said Polly. “The Food Bank is one of the greatest places ever. They are always there.”

Despite all of her personal struggles, Polly continues to give back. She’s a passionate volunteer with the Homeless Coalition. On Thursdays, she visits the Food Link program to pick out food for meals. On Fridays, she helps cook and serve at the Mennonite Church. Last month, Polly used her personal SNAP benefits to purchase milk to share with “her people” at a Friday night meal. “Milk is like gold, especially for the children. I feel compelled to help others because so many have helped me. If it weren’t for the Mission and the Food Bank, I don’t know where I’d be.”

Hunger is a Community Issue

At the Food Bank for Larimer County we believe that no one should be hungry.  We also believe that a well-nourished community is a strong community. Hungry children cannot learn. Hungry adults cannot perform on the job. Hungry seniors cannot maintain their health. When our neighbors are hungry, it impacts us all.

Imagine being so hungry that you fantasize that your teacher is a banana. In the documentary, A Place at the Table, Rosie has that fantasy. Rosie’s family regularly struggles with hunger and Rosie also struggles to keep up in school. Research shows that children who don’t have enough to eat cannot focus. They are sick more often.  They miss school. They are less likely to graduate thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Lesser known is the impact of hunger on adults. A former client shared her story about struggling to find a job.  After months of unemployment, she was excited when a friend referred her for a job.  After days with little to eat, she went to the interview. When she learned that she didn’t get the job, she asked why.  She was told that she hadn’t made any sense. This woman with a master’s degree couldn’t overcome the effects of hunger to get back on her feet.

Senior hunger is a growing problem with serious consequences. According to a 2014 study published by Feeding America and the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, food insecure seniors have an increased risk of developing nine diseases and health conditions, including asthma and congestive heart failure. Over the last five years, the number of seniors we serve has continued to grow. Without community support, thousands of our seniors will spend their golden years struggling with hunger and their health.

The fact is hunger’s impact is far-reaching, well beyond the empty refrigerators of the neighbors we serve.  So what can WE do? September is Hunger Action Month; a nationwide movement designed to raise hunger awareness and motivate action. YOU can make a difference.  Learn more.