Helping hands for holidays in Tonganoxie
Backpack Program helps Tonganoxie students in need of food
Tonganoxie Elementary School counselor Katie Welsh situates food in boxes on the couch in her office.
The holidays are approaching and some Tonganoxie students might need a little more food to help them through the season.
Welsh is coordinator for the Food for Friends Backpack Program at Tonganoxie Elementary School.
The program, which former TES counselor Connie Weltha started a few years back, assist children in the district whose family might need some food assistance.
The program continues to grow.
Last year, Welsh started the year with 17 students being served through the program.
This year, the number has jumped to 58 district wide.
“I think it’s a combination of people hearing about the program and also the community growing,” Welsh said.
Welsh said there’s no elaborate process for families applying to be included in the program. It’s more of a simple application and the honor system.
“I just ask them to tell why they would benefit from being on the program and how it might help the family,” Welsh said. “Parents usually expand upon that. An adult has lost a job or there’s a death in the family. They just explain the situation.”
Welsh said the organization has had families in the past who have gotten in better shape financially who were able to leave the program.
No matter the duration, Food 4 Friends is there to offer a helping hand. Some of the main items the organization accepts from people wanting to donate are canned pastas and soups, peanut butter, packaged or canned fruit, cracker snacks, granola bars, breakfast bars, applesauce, packaged oatmeal, cereal, popcorn, macaroni and cheese and canned vegetables.
Most of the recipients are Tonganoxie Elementary School students, but Welsh estimated there were about 15 middle school students in the program and three or four in the high school.
Throughout the school year, teachers provide students in need various foods to take home on Fridays. The teachers put the items in the students’ backpacks during recess or other breaks in the day when students aren’t in the classroom so that the youths receiving help can remain anonymous.
With the holidays coming up, Food 4 Friends is putting together boxes of food to help families feed their children during the winter break.
Welsh said volunteers also provide a box of food for children’s families at the end of the school year.
“I understand I can’t supplement them for the entire summer, but we try to give them a little extra to get them started,” Welsh said.
TES and Tonganoxie Middle School formerly had separate food pantries and programs, but Welsh said it worked better to streamline offerings for all district assistance at one location.
TES has a food pantry in the school where it stores donations. The program has received grants and additional help from Tonganoxie churches.
On Saturday, Tonganoxie United Methodist Church and American Legion Post 41 Women’s Auxiliary were handing out information about the program and accepting donations at Dollar General and Brother’s Market.
The community has been extremely generous, Welsh said, in helping the families.
She noted that she’s honored to be associated with such a program.
“Helping people always has been in my nature,” she said. “I got an undergrad (degree) in sociology and didn’t really know what I wanted to do my entire life, just knew I wanted to help people.
“It took awhile to get to this spot.”
But now that she’s here, Welsh said she’s eager to be involved in such a program that’s making a difference in people’s lives.
“When it comes down to it, when I see a child’s face light up because they’re getting extra food on weekends they might not have gotten otherwise or a parent crying in my office because they’re so appreciative,” Welsh said. “It also makes me just very thankful for what I’ve got. As adults we take a lot of things for granted.”
Welsh said the food pantry currently is to capacity with food, but she said the program welcomes monetary donations at anytime. Food donations likely will be needed again after the holiday rush.
To help with the Food 4 Friends Backpack program, or for more information, call TES at 913-845-2290.