Help needed: Love Paks Nutrition Program

                                                                                                                                  Photo by Shari Harris
Surrounded by food supplies for the Love Paks are volunteers, front from left: Iretta Larbey, Berna Dean Schultz, Audrey Friend, Jackie Keaton and Linda Roberts, 
back from left: Larry Keaton, Rob Lilly, David Roberts, Jared Lilly and John Stoaks. 
Regular volunteers not pictured are Darlene Reed and Nancy Campbell.
By Christy Porter
Managing Editor

“Food insecurity exists when people don’t have enough nutritious food for a healthy and productive life, reasons can include financial resources and/or availability,” according to Linda Roberts.
Every other Tuesday at 1 p.m. a Packing Party is held by faithful volunteers at the First Baptist Church in Licking to combat food insecurity for local children. The most recent was held Feb. 18. Volunteers assembled 72 Love Paks (food packages), which kids will take home on weekends, ensuring they’ll eat until returning to school on Mondays. Enough food for two weekends is packed at each Packing Party. Larry and Jackie Keaton and David Roberts alternate weeks delivering to the school. At the end of the school term a large box of food per student is distributed for the summer, which probably lasts for one month.
Jo Ann Blackwell started the local Love Paks Nutrition Program in 2009 at Rock Springs Baptist Church. Blackwell realized that there were students attending Licking Elementary School who had little or nothing to eat over the weekends or holidays. The goal for the program is to do what they can so children won’t be hungry. Blackwell continued running the program for 10 years, relinquishing her role to Linda Roberts as the new coordinator in October, when the program moved to First Baptist Church.
Initially it started with 12 elementary children who were identified by schoolteachers and counselors as being in need of food over the weekend when not attending school. Currently Licking PreK – 12 and Head Start are included in the program. The process usually begins with a student telling their teacher they don’t have enough food at home, asking if they can have another tray of food at lunch or making the teacher aware they received back pack food at another school. The school counselor is alerted to the need. The school keeps all students’ information confidential and the school obtains permission from the parents. The program only receives a number for the Love Paks needed. The Love Paks are then distributed to the teacher who gives it to the student on Friday afternoon to be taken home.
Jackie Keaton and Linda Roberts have been with the program since its inception and have seen the numbers increase significantly. At least a dozen have been added to the program just in the past year. In 2017 in Texas County, 23.3 percent of children under 18 were food insecure, approximately 1,291 children; while more current numbers are not readily available, judging need reported by local charitable organizations, these numbers are only increasing.
“Recent studies show food insecurity and hunger are significant predictors of lower school performance, chronic illness and developmental problems,” says Roberts. “Students receive two good meals a day while at school; we want to provide six meals for the weekend through our program.” Food items placed in the Love Paks are individual serving size portions of four main dishes, one vegetable, two fruits, two desserts, two cereals, three snacks and two containers of 100 percent fruit juice for one weekend.
One Love Pak averages $5.40. The cost on a monthly basis is $1,560 for the program. For the current school year the average monthly income for the program has been $878.80, creating a financial shortfall. Four churches and the VFW give monthly to provide food, and individual donations supplement the program. For the program to be sustainable, it requires the participation of the whole community. The program is in need of more financial help to continue to help the students it serves. These are children in our own community. Please consider a monthly donation commitment for the ongoing outreach of the program. If that is not possible, a one-time gift in any amount would be greatly appreciated. Donations can be mailed to Love Paks Nutrition, c/o Linda Roberts, 13175 Hwy. 63, Licking, MO  65542. All monies received go exclusively towards the purchase of food.
Consider showing your love by contributing to the local Love Paks Nutrition Program.

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