Kansas University is having its fourth annual food drive Sept. 9-23 with the goal of providing 30,000 meals for low-income families in Douglas County.
Fifteen collection boxes are located across the campus, including in the Kansas Union and Watson Library, where people can donate nonperishable food items or money. People also can donate $10 to the drive by texting JUSTFOODKS to 80888, and the charge will appear on the next phone bill.
Thelma Simons, food drive coordinator and a KU staff member, said the donations will benefit Just Food, Douglas County’s food bank, which helps about 8,000 people each month. It also shares donations with more then 30 pantries and charitable organization in the area.
“Just Food can provide a meal for as little as 20 cents, so monetary donations are especially helpful,” Simons said.
The drive is sponsored by KU Unclassified Senate, KU University Support Staff Senate and the Center for Community Outreach.
Pledges also can be made online at justfoodfund.org, and then select “KU Fights Hunger” from the donation list.
Lawrence chef Rick Martin helped about a dozen low-income residents cook a healthy dish of red beans and rice with sausage that was topped with fresh pico de gallo.
The cost: $1.44 per serving.
On Wednesday evening, Martin lead a three-hour cooking class where he showed residents how to chop and measure ingredients and then provided assistance as they created their dishes. He also talked about how to properly store food and sanitize cooking areas.
Martin’s classroom was in the lobby of the Just Food warehouse, 1000 E. 11th St.
Among the participants were Anne LaPlante, of Lawrence, and her 7-year-old daughter, Elle Martin. LaPlante said she learned new cutting and cooking techniques and found the weight and measurement tables helpful. Her daughter enjoyed helping Mom.
“It’s fun,” said Elle, as she dumped a cup of rice into the water.
Just Food, Douglas County’s food bank, received a $25,000 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation to help start a cooking program that could be replicated in other communities. Just Food wanted to start one because a majority of its clients do not know how to prepare flavorful dishes with the food that’s given away, such as canned beans, a package of chicken and garden tomatoes.
Jeremy Farmer, executive director of Just Food, said, “They think that microwaving macaroni and cheese is both cheap and quick, and they are just not aware that it’s just as simple and easy to take the produce or food that we give away and make something that’s balanced and nutritious for their family and tastes good.”
Wednesday’s cooking class was the last of three pilot classes to see how a cooking program might work and to gain input from the participants. Just Food plans to begin offering a four- to six-week cooking program in September or October that would be offered to anyone, regardless of income; the hope is that those who can afford to pay would make a donation to make the program sustainable.
“It’s not just people who are low-income and unable to have the resources to cook, but it’s a lot of parents who have kids playing soccer and baseball and they have just 30 minutes at home, so they pick up fast food. It’s teaching them how to cook, too, and about getting a balanced diet,” Farmer said.
The red-beans-and-rice dish included kale — a green that not many participants had used before, but many said it added color and a dose of nutrition.
Martin said that was one of the tricks he learned growing up as a child in a low-income family.
“It’s something I made a lot as a child, and I learned early to add fresh ingredients to do really nice additions of fresh, nutritious vegetables so that it’s not just beans and rice,” he said.
Farmer has big plans for Just Food’s cooking program, especially to help low-income residents get a leg up in life.
For those who complete a cooking program, they will receive the tools — things like pots and pans, knives and measuring cups — to take home and put to use.
Farmer also would like to offer an intermediate level and an expert level with the possibility that someone might even discover a new career. If so, Farmer would like Just Food to be able to offer a scholarship to Johnson County Community College’s culinary arts program. Farmer has even thought about having classes on canning foods, then possibly paying some in need of work to do it.
“It could have ripple effects that affect so many great things in our community,” Farmer said. “It’s super exciting to me. We want it to grow, and we want it to expand and be more than just a cooking class.”
COOKING AND SAFETY TIPS
Lawrence resident Rick Martin, a chef and culinary art director at Eudora High School, provided lots of tips during a cooking class at Just Food. Among the tips:
• Store foods in the refrigerator in this order from top to bottom for safety: ready to eat, raw seafood, raw whole cuts of beef or pork, raw ground beef or pork, and raw poultry.
• Best way to prevent foodborne illness: Wash hands. He said to use water as hot as you can stand, wet hands, use soap, wash for at least 15 seconds, rinse and dry with single-use towel.
• Cooking temperatures should be: 165 degrees for poultry, 155 for ground beef and pork, 145 for seafood and whole cuts of beef and pork, 135 for vegetables, soups and grains.
• The shelf life for leftovers in the refrigerator is seven days.
MARTIN'S RED BEANS AND RICE RECIPE
2 cups — dry, white rice
1 quart — water
1 teaspoon — salt
Place ingredients in a four-quart pot and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Simmer until rice is a soupy consistency, approximately 10 minutes. Cover and set aside for 15 minutes or until ready for use. Makes 8 servings.
Red bean mixture
3 cans — red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 pound — polish sausage, kielbasa or andoullie
1 cup — kale, chopped
1 — small onion, diced
2 — carrots, diced
1 tablespoon — paprika
1 teaspoon — chile powder
1 teaspoon — onion powder
1 cube — chicken bouillon
3 tablespoons — butter or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons — flour
1 1/2 cups — water
Heat 2 tables of butter, olive or vegetable oil in a four-quart sauce pan. Add carrots and onion and saute until soft and slightly browned. Add sausage and cook for an additional 4 minutes. Add flour and stir while cooking for an additional 2 minutes. Slowly add water while stirring. Add seasonings, beans and bouillon cube and simmer on low heat for 8 minutes. Add kale and set aside covered for 5 minutes. Serves 8.
Pico De Gallo
3 — roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 bunch — cilantro or parsley, chopped
1 — medium onion, diced
Half of a lime, juiced
1/2 teaspoon — salt
1/4 teaspoon — black pepper
Minced jalapeno optional
In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients 15 minutes before serving. Chill.
Directions: Serve red bean mixture over rice and then top with pice de gallo. Total cost for ingredients is approximately $11.50.
Just Food, the Douglas County food bank, held its first city-wide Diaper Drive during the month of July--and the caring people of Lawrence responded. The original goal was to collect 10,000 diapers. Just Food received 17,920 diapers and enough monetary donations to buy 25,130 more! That's a total of 43,060 diapers!! Thanks to everyone who donated. Your donations will help a lot of struggling families in Douglas County!
You may wonder why a food bank would hold a diaper drive. We held this event because the same people who need food assistance frequently don’t have money to purchase diapers for their babies. Diapers and wipes cost about $100 a month, which puts quite a strain on already tight budgets. Diapers are not covered by government systems because they are considered “hygiene items.” Families have to make tough decisions about how to spend the small amount of money they have each month. Sometimes that means leaving a baby in a diaper much longer than recommended, which can lead to health issues for the baby. Your donations will reduce the chance of that happening.
Even though it is almost 25 years ago, I can still remember struggling to support two small boys under the age of five by myself. We had many months that ended with less than $10 in the bank, so I know how much every little bit of help is appreciated. I am so glad that I live in a town where caring people are always willing to help their neighbors in need. Thank you Lawrence!
The National Association of Letter Carriers' 20th annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive is Saturday, May 12, and residents are encouraged to leave nonperishable items by their mailboxes for carriers to pick up.
It is the largest one-day food collection event in the nation, and so far, carriers have collected more than 1 billion pounds of nonperishable food and delivered it to families in need.
Food collected in Lawrence will be delivered to Just Food, the food pantry that serves Douglas County at 1000 E. 11th St. In April, the pantry served more than 2,300 individuals.
Just Food, a Douglas County food program, is applying to become its own nonprofit organization and will be moving out from under another nonprofit — East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp.
Forrest Swall, vice chairman of the Just Food advisory board, expects the move to be complete within six months. He said it will eliminate the bureaucratic red tape they often face when it comes to implementing changes.
“As an independent organization, we will be in a position to make decisions and determine essentially the development and future of the program,” Swall said. “We think we will be in a position to more effectively meet the needs of people who have nutritional needs that are hungry in Douglas County.”
In 2011, Just Food distributed $676,503 worth of food, or about 880,000 meals, for free to 84,699 people, a 21-percent increase from a year earlier. This month, it is moving from a warehouse at 1200 E. 11th St. to a building twice the size down the street at 1000 E. 11th St.
Just Food is part of the Harvesters Community Food Network in Kansas City, Mo., and is able to obtain nonperishable and perishable items at a reduced cost. It can provide a complete meal for 20 cents. The program also gets donations of fresh produce from Douglas County farmers and the Lawrence Farmers' Market.
Just Food provides food through its pantry and also stores and provides food for 36 community partners, such as The Salvation Army, Heartland Community Health Center and the Lawrence Community Shelter.
The food program has an annual budget of about $448,000. That pays for two employees, rent, utilities, transportation and other necessities. It has about 60 volunteers who help write grants, enter data, store food and help clients.
Lots of growth
Just Food has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception in 2005 when it was just a concept among a handful of community leaders. At first, food was stored and distributed from the ECKAN office inside the United Way of Douglas County building. In 2009, ECKAN received a one-year $250,000 grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to start a full-fledged food program. In October 2009, it began operating out of its current location.
Once the grant expired, the program then was staying afloat with a $50,000 Community Service Block Grant and approximately $1,700 in community donations per month. Last year, the advisory board held a community fundraising campaign to raise $100,000 to keep the doors open and it was successful.
Last summer, Jeremy Farmer was hired as full-time executive director, replacing a part-time position.
“We are really excited that this is happening,” he said, of the move to become a nonprofit. “We’re looking forward to continuing to serve Douglas County and in an even greater capacity than we have in the past,” he said.
Richard Jackson, CEO of ECKAN, praised the advisory board and Douglas County community for its efforts.
“They basically rolled up their sleeves and did some things that were needed to make the program successful and hopefully become self-sustaining,” he said. “They did a lot of the work behind the scenes — recruiting volunteers and soliciting donations and funds from the community. I think the community should be proud of its efforts and it’s one that can be showcased to others.”
Jackson said ECKAN will continue to partner with Just Food and help serve those in need.
ECKAN is a community action agency that serves low-income residents through a variety of programs: housing, case management, youth, and food.
Jackson said it was funded in 1966 and grew out of the war on poverty. It receives mostly federal funding, but a little from the state and private donations. It serves 13 counties, including Douglas County.
“We do a little of everything to try to meet the needs of individuals who need some kind of assistance,” Jackson said. “We put a lot of emphasis on case management working with individuals to become self-sufficient so they are no longer dependent on federal or state funding.”
Douglas County’s food bank, Just Food, will be moving this month into a warehouse down the street at 1000 E. 11th St.
The new 9,600-square-foot location is more than double the food bank’s current site, allowing for storage of more food for an increasing number of clients. Just Food serves nearly 3,000 people each month.
The move is expected to be complete April 2.
Jeremy Farmer, executive director, said Just Food no longer will have to close on Wednesdays because there will be enough space to operate the food pantry and allow its 30 community partners to pick up food for their pantries. He estimated that each Wednesday Just Food turns away between 10 and 30 families seeking assistance.
In addition, Just Food has received a donated 9-by-30-foot cooler that will allow it to store six times the amount of food that needs to be refrigerated. It also will have more freezer space. Farmer said such space would have come in handy recently when The Salvation Army was seeking space to store food after its freezer quit working.
The new location also includes sky lights, spray foam insulation and air-conditioning. Last summer, several employees and volunteers became ill after temperatures reached above 100 degrees inside the building.
Just Food currently pays $2,000 per month to lease its space at 1200 E. 11th St. That rent was scheduled to go up to $2,600 in June. The new location will be $3,000 per month.
“We are excited about this move because it will give us a little breathing room to do what we do better,” Farmer said.
Rachel Wotawa was uncomfortable at the table.
She was one of the lucky ones, becoming part of the “upper class” by picking a particular-colored piece of paper. So she got to enjoy a nice spaghetti dinner, fancy service and all. Her friend wasn’t so lucky — her pick of the lot deemed her “lower class,” meaning she sat on the floor and ate plain rice with her hands.
Wotawa said after the experience — a “hunger banquet” designed to raise hunger awareness Friday night in the Kansas Union — that the simulated separation between the “upper,” “middle” and “lower” classes made her feel uncomfortable because she got a seat at the table but few others did. It was an exercise for the 20 or so people who attended, but, as speaker Jeremy Farmer reminded them, hunger is a very real problem for thousands of people in Douglas County.
Farmer, the executive director of Just Food, 1200 E. 11th St., gave a talk as the three groups — the lowest class was the largest — ate food representative of their economic status. The event was sponsored by the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center and Heartland Community Health Center.
Kalin Hothaus, a staff member at St. Lawrence, said the event was held to promote discussion about hunger in Douglas County and how to tackle it.
“Any change starts with the individual, to look at things we could cut away to help,” she said.
Farmer started the discussion by asking those in the lower class to leave the room. Unfortunately, he said, the conversation about what to do about hunger almost always takes place without them.
“You don’t see (people suffering from hunger),” he said. “Maybe if you did, you’d be more inclined to do something.” The issue of perception of hunger issues was the main theme of the night.
And once someone falls into food scarcity, the affects can be lifelong and continue into his or her children’s lives. More fortunate people see those in need as “lazy and stupid” but “nothing is further from the truth,” he said, and those in the middle class are often one traumatic life event away from struggling, too.
But the tone of the dinner was meant to be upbeat — Farmer, whose group helped 85,000 people last year, said change is possible. It starts with breaking negative assumptions and becoming aware of the issues within our own communities.
“It sounds small, but the biggest thing somebody can do,” he said, “is be an advocate.”
Jeremy Farmer, executive director of Just Food, will be available March 1 to discuss food insecurity in Douglas County.
He will be participating in an online chat at 2 p.m. on WellCommons.com. You can submit questions at anytime at WellCommons.com/chats. Make sure to log back on to WellCommons.com during or after the chat to see if your question was answered.
Just Food is the food bank for the county. In 2011, it distributed $676,503 worth of food, or about 880,000 meals, for free to 84,699 people, a 21 percent increase from a year earlier.
Farmer has spent 10 years working for churches, nonprofits and being an advocate for the marginalized. Before returning to his hometown of Lawrence, Farmer was director of community awareness at Project Hope Food Bank in Arkansas.
The East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corporation will be distributing commodity food items Thursday to Douglas County residents who are eligible for The Emergency Food Assistance Program.
The food will be distributed from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at City Hall, 4 E. Seventh St., in Eudora, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Just Food warehouse, 1200 E. 11th St. in Lawrence.
To receive food, residents must have pre-enrolled in the program at Just Food. For more information, contact Just Food at 856-7030.
By all accounts, Jeremy Farmer is a driven guy.
As executive director of Just Food, a Douglas County food bank, he’s put that drive into guiding an organization that’s provided almost 1 million pounds of vital supplies to the area’s less advantaged this year.
“He’s a very intense guy — he has a mission, and that mission is to feed as many people as possible,” said Andrew Yochum, store director of HyVee, 3504 Clinton Parkway, which provides food at a reduced rate and is in the process of donating coolers to Just Food.
Farmer’s efforts to re-energize Just Food have included reaching out to work with other area social service organizations and to both clients and potential donors through a social media campaign. Just Food now serves more Douglas County residents than it ever has.
“He uses his energy to bring as much to his clients as he can,” Yochum said.
‘It happens in our back yard’
Farmer said social media helps to inject that energy and community support to the nonprofit, which is an extension of the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corporation, also known as ECKAN.
“For me, this is about getting people aware of what issues are related to hunger,” he said. “Because the statistics we look at on a daily basis are staggering.”
By one estimate, as much as 60 percent of people in Douglas County are at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, the standard for accessibility to Just Food’s services.
While some clients “graduate” from the program through increased self-sufficiency, a mounting concern of Just Food is the number of people who are “just one pink slip away from disaster,” Farmer said.
So part of the social media campaign’s mission is to increase awareness of the issue.
“We think it happens across the world, we don’t think it happens across the street,” he said of food scarcity.
A community organization
Just Food works closely with many community organizations, including Ballard Center, Willow Domestic Violence Center and others.
Donna Reed, who volunteers with Baldwin City’s food pantry, says her organization is one that’s benefited from Farmer’s work.
“He has bent over backwards for us,” she said.
Since August, when Just Food began to work more closely with the Baldwin City service, it has gone from “getting rather bare” to giving about 100 pounds of food a week.
But that does mean she — or Farmer — gets complacent.
“He’s passionate and always wants to do better,” she said. “He has a vision — things he wants to do down the road.”
The summer months are usually the most difficult for Just Food, and November has the highest number of donations. Around Thanksgiving and Christmas, its doors are open later and many groups give special gift-basket donations.
Farmer said he sees a lot of generosity from community members around the holiday season, and hopes people sustain that spirit throughout the year.
“I want people to know that hunger is an issue,” he said, “but we’re doing something about it.”