As the home of the University of Kansas, a thriving business community and many high-paying jobs, the city of Lawrence might not seem like the kind of place where hunger is a problem. And yet, it is.
Last week, hundreds of low-income residents of Douglas County lined up to receive free food and essentials, which were donated by the Oklahoma City-based international relief agency Feed The Children. The two-truckload donation — 38,000 pounds of cargo — is enough to provide 800 families with a 25-pound box of nonperishable food, plus a 10-pound box of personal care items.
Terry Claybrook, of Wichita, is one of the agency's truck drivers. He considers it the best job he’s ever had.
"Because I get to do what Jesus said — 'Feed me, clothe me and give me water when I’m thirsty,'" said Claybrook, while using a box-cutter to open a cargo box of food.
"Well, there’s cereal. There’s spaghetti. There’s rice. There’s all kinds of canned goods. Here’s some potatoes, and green beans, spaghetti sauce for this spaghetti. Here’s some macaroni and cheese — oh yes, All-American food there. Smart Balance popcorn. Skippy peanut butter. Diced tomatoes. That sounds good!" Claybrook said.
More than food
Jeremy Farmer is in charge of Just Food, the food bank serving Douglas County. He said the personal care items may be just as important to the recipients as the food.
"You know, if you’re a family, and left over at the end of the month you have $15 to spend, what are you going to spend it on? Are you going to spend it on toothpaste, or are you going to spend it on food?" Farmer said. "There are a lot of things that one can’t get on food stamps. Toilet paper being one of them, toothpaste, laundry detergent, feminine hygiene products, those are all things that are difficult to get on food stamps. One of the things that Feed The Children does is they provide hygiene items to people."
Not only that, this distribution includes hardcover children’s books and a special treat: bags of miniature candy bars.
"There was a kid that we met with a couple of months ago who ate a chocolate bar for the first time in his life, as a 10-year-old kid. That just blew me away. I could not believe that a 10-year-old kid had never had a chocolate bar. But some of these kids, that’s their story," Farmer said.
"And so, to be able to do this — to provide food and hygiene products, to be able to provide books, to be able to provide maybe a little sweet for them, for those that never had it before — it’s just a great opportunity."
The families in need
As volunteers continue to set up for the distribution, a line of cars begins to form at the entrance to the Just Food parking lot. Soon, the line stretches for blocks. Talking to the people in these cars, nearly all are raising children — either their own or their grandchildren.