‘Everybody Counts’ prepares for upcoming school year

By Bethany Knipp

Volunteers focused on feeding Riley County’s children and getting them the supplies they need for school the second Everybody Counts on Saturday.

The event was a follow-up to the one that happened in January.

“We didn’t see the number of school children we had hoped to so we decided to do it again in the summer,” the Rev. Patrick McLaughlin of the First United Methodist Church, which is a main sponsor of the event.

Plenty of school-aged children did attend the event, which distributes food, school supplies and gets basic medical, dental and mental health services and appointments for those who need them.

There were also plenty of activities for youngsters, including bouncy houses, face painting and a potluck lunch.

“Definitely, because we had it during the weekday, and it was during the day (last year), so there weren’t as many children, so this community celebration is truly that,” Lynda Bachelor, the event’s volunteer coordinator, said.

School supplies, McLaughlin said, ran out within the first 30 minutes of Everybody Counts. One woman said her family came for school supplies but didn’t make it in time before they were all gone.

“There’s just a huge need still for school supplies,” Lee Ann Smith Desper, executive director of Konza United Way, said.

For that reason, she said United Way would collect school supplies until the Tuesday following Labor Day on Sept. 2 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the United Way center, 555 Poyntz Ave. Suite 215, and give them to USD 383 Manhattan-Ogden for distribution. 

“This is just much needed in our community,” Smith Desper said.

Harvesters Community Food Network food bank also brought 5,450 pounds of food to Everybody Counts in an effort to help individuals and families take home fresh produce and other items, said Jessica Kejr, the Harvesters agency services manager.

According to data from Feeding America, a non-profit domestic hunger-relief charity, 18.4 percent of Riley County’s population is food insecure, which is 13,240 people.

Riley County is one of the top five most food insecure counties in Kansas along with Wyandotte, Geary, Douglas and Crawford counties.

Organizers estimate that 2,660 children in Riley County — or 20.2 percent — are food insecure.

“We know that the need is high, and the need is rising,” Kejr said.

McLaughlin said it was hard to quantify whether more food was distributed Saturday than during January’s event, but that there was more of a community feel.

“There’s a lot more sense of a community, I think, which is something we were really, really going for. A lot more school-aged children, which is something we’re pushing for,” McLaughlin said.

Kejr said her agency and similar ones are seeing “a new face of who’s hungry,” which she said includes the working families who make too much money for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program waivers — formerly known as food stamps — or people who are trying to go back to school.

“It’s here for anybody in need, whatever that need might look like in your household. It’s here for you,” she said.

For distribution events like Everybody Counts, Kejr said people anyone can and take what they need, without showing proof of income.

They can also come even if they’re not from Riley County.

“I think it’s exciting that people are catching on that we gotta figure this out,” Kejr said.

“This is a community issue. How do we deal with it as a community?”

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