City of Topeka seeks to partner with local churches for children’s after-school snack program

Church representatives heard city officials ask them to provide space and volunteers to feed children after-school snacks during the school year. Churches wouldn’t have to pay for snacks. (Steve Fry/The Capital-Journal)

Topeka city officials were recruiting local churches on Friday to provide space to give underfed children locations to eat after-school snacks.

 

A church that signs on to be a site will give each child a beefed-up snack, based on a program named “Refuel Topeka.” About 40 people, all from local churches, attended the lunch-hour meeting at the Cyrus K. Holliday Building.

The city will provide training, equipment and promotional materials for the food sites, and volunteers churches will provide space and time to feed the children, city officials said Friday.

Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast encouraged churches to take part in the program. Wolgast learned of it while attending a meeting of the National League of Cities, then Topeka obtained a federal grant to fund the program locally.

The city has to have sites to deliver the food to, and the city will act as the conduit for the program, Wolgast said.

The meals, which don’t require cooking, will be delivered by Harvesters Community Food Network, a food bank with a site in Topeka.

Each is a “shelf stable meal,” Maria Anderson said. Anderson is a Refuel Topeka coordinator for the city of Topeka. The meal contains crackers, raisins, cheese sticks, wheat crackers, marinara sauce and milk.

Churches participating in Refuel Topeka will do so without cost, the mayor said.

“We’re all aware that one in six children don’t have enough food every day,” said Monique Glaude, division director of community engagement. “We all know the need. It’s in every section of our city, every area.”

Glaude noted the program is operating in Prairie Village, a Johnson County suburb of above-average income, where a church is feeding 50 to 60 people a weekend. Saying it is “imperative” that Topeka churches take part, Glaude asked people at the presentation to participate in the Topeka program.

Topeka has only one after-school snack site at the moment, and it is at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, which feeds 65 children a day, according to Sheena Smith, a senior grant writer for the city of Topeka.

The program will run through May 2018, the end of the current school year, and the city is asking churches to take part for at least two days a week but preferably five, Glaudet said.

The program would require an hour each day, only children 1 to 18 years old can participate, and the food must be eaten at the church to ensure the children are actually consuming it.

The city will provide activities for the children during the after-school snacks, and the Topeka Police and Topeka Fire Departments have agreed to bring equipment for the children to see. Firefighters and police officers will eat with the youngsters at times.

The church must have a locked cabinet to store the food in, a refrigerator to store the milk in, and two to four volunteers each day. To protect the children, background checks will be conducted on volunteers by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

The program’s kickoff event will be from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Starlite Skate Center, 301 S.E. 45th.

Churches are being sought for the program so that children feel safe.

“What better place to feel safe than to go to a church?” Anderson said.

Near the end of the program, sign-up sheets for churches were circulating among attendees, some of whom were signing up.

“It sounds like a good idea,” said Pastor E. Bernard Hurd, of Calvary Baptist Church. He wondered why it had started somewhat late in the school year, but “it sounds like a good program, no doubt about it.

Hurd said he didn’t know whether his church would take part in it.

“It think it’s great,” said Pastor Branson Roberts, of First Church of Nazarene. “There are already churches spread around the city that would be good sites.”

Roberts said his church “probably” would take part in the program.

Contact reporter Steve Fry at (785) 295-1206 or @TCJCourtsNCrime on Twitter.

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