GREENVILLE — It may be hard for some to believe, but 26 percent of children living in Montcalm County are “food insecure.”
According to Deborah Wagner, who develops grants and special projects for both Montcalm and Ionia counties’ Intermediate School Districts, the problem is widespread and serious.
On Wednesday morning, Wagner addressed members of the MAISD board at the Seiter Education Center in Greenville.
“It’s not that these kids don’t get food, but they don’t get consistent meals on an everyday basis,” Wagner said. “There are over 4,000 in Montcalm County.”
Too often, Wagner said, kids return from school to empty homes; parents are working or otherwise engaged and not there to prepare proper, nutritious meals. To help ameliorate this situation, Wagner is putting together a pilot “feeding program” to send home sack dinners with at least some of these children.
At first, the program will service just 500 children ages 5 to 12 from one school in Greenville and another in Ionia. Even this small effort requires a phalanx of volunteers and a hefty amount of funding. To begin with, that funding is being provided in the form of grants from State Farm, RMHC, the Marie Crowley Foundation, Ronald McDonald House and other sources.
“We’ll be serving schools where the rate of free or reduced lunch is 72 percent or higher,” Wagner said. “The sack lunch has no need to be cooked, which is good because in some homes there’s nobody there to cook it after school.”
Wagner added that another $50,000 in grant money is currently pending, but that the real challenge will be making the program sustainable and expanding it to encompass all those in need, roughly 9,000 students in both counties.
To make that happen, Wagner is actively recruiting volunteers to help put the sack dinners together. She’s hoping to bring in church and youth groups willing to take on the challenge on a regular basis, such as once a week.
“I just opened up volunteer recruitment,” Wagner said. “I hope to soon have an online calendar for signing up groups and individuals.”
She also intends to produce regular fundraisers, while at the same time developing a solid volunteer base and marketing program.
“I see us eventually serving every needy kid in both counties,” Wagner said. “There should not be any kid who isn’t fed. We know that if our program is successful, we could serve those kids without any problem.”
MAISD Superintendent Scott Koenigsknecht praised Wagner for the time and effort she has put into developing the program thus far.
“We really appreciate the work you’ve done,” Koenigsknecht said. “This is a great partnership.”
Also at Wednesday’s MAISD meeting, board members were treated to a short concert of Christmas music courtesy of Seiter Center students and staff, led by Alan Guilfoyle on guitar.
The MAISD board will meet again at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 8 at Montcalm Community College in Sidney.