Thursday, April 24, 2014

Initiative banks on efforts toward ‘One Million Meals’

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 9/27/2013

Nearly 3,500 people in Franklin County are food insecure, and almost half of those are children, Ed York said.

In an effort to combat hunger in Franklin County, Arvest Bank has partnered with East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp. for its One Million Meals initiative, York, market president at Arvest, 119 E. Third St., Ottawa, said.

Nearly 3,500 people in Franklin County are food insecure, and almost half of those are children, Ed York said.

In an effort to combat hunger in Franklin County, Arvest Bank has partnered with East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp. for its One Million Meals initiative, York, market president at Arvest, 119 E. Third St., Ottawa, said.

“Arvest has separate bank entities and the Ottawa branch is a part of greater Kansas City,” York said. “[The Kansas City branches] are working with Harvesters and I said ‘I like Harvesters and they directly work with COF and [the Ottawa branch] would like to do an initiative with a local group rather than a Kansas City group.’ They said, ‘Sure.’ So our branch in Ottawa is working directly to raise meals for people here in Franklin County to be a bit more local.”

It is the second year Arvest Bank and ECKAN have paired up to raise 1 million meals, York said.

“Last year we presented ECKAN with food and a $1,000 check,” he said. “Harvesters has told us that with $1 they can provide five meals, and that’s incredible.”

Ottawa-based ECKAN helps to supply families in need in Franklin County with food, Richard Jackson, chief executive officer at ECKAN, said.

“Currently we’re serving pretty close to 500 people a month who need food in Franklin County through several of our food programs,” Jackson said. “The money collected [from One Million Meals] and the food that’s collected goes into our food banks for those needing food and they’ll benefit from that. The money collected is used to purchase food for the food bank, which helps us meet the needs of those in the community who need food from time to time.”

An obvious choice

Choosing to bring awareness to food-insecure families was a fairly easy choice, York said.

“[Arvest Bank] likes to look for a cause that we can do bank-wide,” York said. “The states that Arvest serves are Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas and all of those are in the top 25 states with food-challenged people, so it was obvious. It was one of the causes we thought we might be able to make a difference in.”

After visiting the National Guard armory this summer during a food distribution event, York said, his awareness of hungry local families was heightened and his need to help was greater.

“I saw literally a huge crowd around the armory, baking in the sun, holding babies, umbrellas, and some were in wheelchairs,” York said. “I asked a friend, ‘What’s going on?’ and they said ‘It’s the food day.’ People were standing out in 100-degree heat to get produce. I’d never seen so many, and I recognized a lot of the people out there.”

‘No money for food’

With the economy still recovering, many people in Franklin County are still unemployed or underemployed, York said, making it more difficult than ever for people to feed families.

“We have people working part-time who have no other assistance and don’t qualify for government programs, but still don’t have enough money to eat and that touched me,” York said. “It’s a lot of people who are underemployed, so by the time they pay their rent and utilities, there’s no money for food.”

ECKAN distributes food to Franklin County residents in need on different days of the month, Jackson said.

“The first Monday of the month in the evening we pass out food at the Don Woodward Center, and last Monday we had over 100 people that showed up,” Jackson said. “The second, third and fourth Tuesday of the month we pass out food at the Don Woodward Center and we get about 80 people then. The first Wednesday of the month we have a mobile food pantry where we get a load of food from Harvesters and that’s given about 2 p.m. at the National Guard armory.”

With the unemployment rate staying stagnant and cuts in food stamp programs, Jackson said, people are having a more difficult time providing the necessary nutrition to themselves as well as families.

“[The people showing up when food is handed out] are the ones we have on an ongoing basis,” Jackson said. “Those are the ones who run into emergency needs. The One Million Meals initiative is one way we can help.”

Raising awareness

The One Million Meals project runs Sept. 2 to Nov. 2, York said, and all food items and monetary donations go directly to ECKAN.

“You can bring cans of food and leave those at the bank or come by and leave money,” York said. “Our goal is to raise around 2,000 meals for Franklin County residents.”

Arvest Bank is working on other events to help raise awareness about the One Million Meals project, York said, hopefully getting Franklin County residents more involved.

“We’re going to have a cookout Oct. 18 from probably 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. where you can donate your lunch or money and we’ll give you a hot dog lunch,” York said. “We’re also having a bake sale where you can come by the bank and buy some baked goods. We’ll also be showing a short film Oct. 4 at the First Friday Forum.”

With ECKAN picked for the second year as the recipient of the food and money donations, Jackson said, he’s thankful.

“We’re pleased [Arvest Bank] chose us and they recognize that there are people in need of food in the community,” Jackson said. “It allows us another opportunity to meet the needs of those we help in the community.”

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