FENWICK — Between Ionia and Montcalm counties, there are an estimated 8,000 children who are classified as “food insecure” and school officials say that is unacceptable.
“When we saw that, we knew we need to do something,” said Deb Wagner, director of grants and special events with both the Montcalm and Ionia intermediate school district (ISD). “Living in the United States of America, we shouldn’t have children going to bed hungry, but we do.”
In an effort to curb, or come as close to eliminating it as possible, the two counties have launched the IM Kids 3rd Meal program for children classified as food insecure, which means they have limited availability of food.
“In meeting with local districts and asking about what supports we could provide for them, we heard often about the need for food for children,” said Dr. Scott Koenigsknecht, superintendent of the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District, “particularly to take home as some children are eligible for a free/reduced breakfast and lunch but may not have access to food at home.”
The program — which will begin at two elementary schools ISDs’ districts this year when students return from spring break April 14 and continue through the end of the school year — will provide children a dinner Monday through Friday and a snack for the weekend. Wagner said next school year, the program should be in full service, serving both counties fully.
The dinners will include a sandwich of some sort — such as meat and cheese or peanut butter and jelly — fruit, a 100 percent fruit juice and a small snack.
“I think this will have a huge impact on those families,” Wagner said.
Because of volunteers, who will prepare the meals, the dinners come complete and ready to eat, without the need to cook.
“Sometimes the families that need this don’t have those resources or the children are home alone,” Wagner said.
The meals are around 1,000 calories each.
“We’re trying to keep it healthy and nutritious,” Wagner said, adding well-fed students will even allow them to do better in school.
“This also has an impact on student achievement,” she said. “When you have a kid sitting in a classroom who isn’t getting his basic needs, and food is a basic need, he’s not focused on learning, he’s thinking about what he’s going to eat for dinner.”
“We’re hoping to meet an immediate need of stopping childhood hunger in the county, but also looking at increasing academic achievement as we know that children learn more and better if their nutritional needs are being met and they aren’t worrying about where there next meal might come from,” he said.
In order to keep the program serving the large number of families who need it, Wagner said it will take the entire Montcalm and Ionia communities pitching in.
The ISDs are asking for volunteers to help prepare the meals by making the sandwiches and packing the bags.
Wagner added she also hopes to develop partnerships with community groups to help organize food drives to keep the program’s shelves stocked.
“It’s not a school effort, this is a community effort,” she said, adding the Greenville Youth Advisory Council helped fund the purchase of a $14,000 walk-in cooler for food storage.
Anyone interested in volunteering, donating or organizing a drive for the IM Kids 3rd Meal program can contact the group by calling (616) 527-4900. For more information, visit the group’s website at www.imkids.org.
A kickoff fundraiser is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 19 at the H.O. Steele Education Center, 10260 S. Sheridan Road near Fenwick.
Admission for the Easter event — which will feature pictures with a rabbit, an egg hunt, petting zoo, bounce castle and more — is free, but donations will be accepted. Lunch and concessions will also be available.