HELENA — Food insecurity is a reality for thousands of children across Montana. In the Helena area, schools and organizations, like Helena Food Share, are working to get kids the food they need.
Food insecurity means inconsistent access to enough food. According to the most recent numbers from Feeding America—a hunger relief organization—1,720 children in Lewis and Clark County are facing food insecurity. For some children, school is the only place they are guaranteed a meal.
“There’s so much housing insecurity and job insecurity that it can be really difficult to pay for just the basic meals,” Bryant Elementary School Principal Trish Klock said. “The cost of everything has increased.”
Klock sees hunger in the community through her role on the board at Helena Food Share, and as a principal, she sees it at her school.
Along with lunch and snacks, Klock said Bryant Elementary provides breakfast to 95-percent of their students.
“To have your mind working around any academic material, you have to have a full belly,” she said.
Helena Food Share steps in over the weekends when school cafeterias are closed. Food Share’s Kid Packs program provides about 1,500 calories worth of kid-friendly, nutritious food for kids to take home over the weekend.
“Last week, we took out over 1,200 packs the very first week,” Helena Food Share program operations director Kim Dale said.
Packs are distributed at schools across the area. Bryant Elementary gives out between 250 and 275 Kid Packs each week. To put that in perspective, Klock said 288 students are enrolled at the school.
“It is a huge portion,” Klock said. “We do send extra packs with kids if we know they have younger siblings at home.”
The food that fills the Kid Packs cost about $250,000 per year. Dale said money and work to make the Kid Packs program possible come from the community.
“Without that huge volunteer force, there’s no Kid Packs program,” Dale said. “The ratio of volunteer hours to staff hours is probably 95% to 5%.”
Dale said she expects to see the number of Kid Packs given out increase as the school year goes on.
If you want to help Helena Food Share, visit their website, give them a call at 406-443-3663, or stop by the pantry.