Kansas City area schools offer blankets, toys and meals to students in need for the holidays
The holiday break can be difficult for families who rely on schools to provide meals, shelter and other resources to their kids. Schools around the Kansas City area started planning early so kids would be taken care of.
Winter break offers students around the Kansas City area an opportunity to rest, catch up with family and celebrate the holidays. But it also means students in need will spend up to two weeks without access to resources regularly provided at school.
That’s why schools, community organizations and food pantries — like Harvesters Community Food Network — are working to ensure that students are taken care of during the holiday season.
“School is not only an educational place for children,” Harvesters spokesperson Sarah Biles said. “It's also a place that provides food, sometimes up to two meals a day for kids, and shelter.”
Here’s a look at the toys, meals, and resources for families over the holiday break.
Harvesters Community Food Network
Harvesters started its longtime “BackSnack” program, which sends kids home with a backpack filled with food each week, after realizing students weren't getting enough food over the weekend.
When schools are closed for longer spans of time, Biles said, the food bank works to ensure students still have access to meals.
“Summer break is a larger amount of time of a couple of months at least,” Biles said. “But even for winter break, a week or two with less food is impactful on a child and a family.”
Biles said the organization works with schools to provide at least one extra backpack to go home with students for the holiday break. Harvesters also has 60 food pantries in area schools and works to ensure they have enough food to send extra meals home.
School pantry programs were also eligible to receive holiday meats like chicken or turkey to provide to families this year. A full list of Harvester-partnered pantry locations can be found here.
Kansas City, Kansas School District
Family and Community Engagement Specialist Charlesetta Jackson is always looking for opportunities to take care of her students at New Chelsea Elementary school — whether it’s securing thousands of new Bombas socks or providing 50 families with meals for Thanksgiving.
Jackson said families learn about what resources their school offers throughout the school year. When families ask for help with one need, Jackson said she tries to figure out if they need help with anything else.
“I want them to know that we do know, we do understand, and whatever they need — whatever I can help with — just come to me and I'll do my best to get it for you,” Jackson said.
The elementary school has a food pantry all year, and Jackson provides a list of local pantries that families can go to if they need more food or hygiene items.
Jackson works with community partners to help fill the pantry and provide more resources for students. This holiday season, she arranged for each student at New Chelsea to receive a quilt from Project Linus of Greater Kansas City.
“I just wanted the kids to go home with something, and if they consider it Christmas, fine,” Jackson said. “If you don't celebrate Christmas, you still got something to keep you warm or to snuggle up with.”
Hickman Mills School District
The Hickman Mills School District starts thinking about what housing-insecure families may need during the holidays at the end of October.
They send out a “Winter Wonderland Wishlist” to all of the district’s families who are experiencing housing insecurity, allowing them to select different gifts for their kids like art supplies, soccer balls or fragrances. All the gifts also include a basket full of food as well as a game for families to play together.
Danyca Singleton, the district’s homelessness liaison, said it helps to start planning before the holiday season.
“The major thing is trying to relieve and reduce mental stress and anxiety for our parents,’” Singleton said. “So we like to start that communication early.”
Singleton said the district provides families who live in hotels with a ready-made dinner. The district also offers additional resources through community partners like the Community Assistance Council or the Impact Hickman Mills program.
She said reaching out to families about holiday resources serves multiple purposes.
“We're getting a check-in right before Christmas break so we can know where families are, where they’re housed, if they're secured,” Singleton said. “Then in addition, too, we're able to then gift and to make sure that they have something for the holiday season.”
Lee’s Summit School District
Parents in the Lee’s Summit School District can see what resources are available throughout the year on an online community resource guide.
Closer to the holidays, school social workers provide families with a list specific to what they may need during the break — like meals, clothing or gifts — and update it whenever new resources are available.
Katie Chesnut, a social worker for the district, said sending the list out in October means families have more time to get the support they need.
“It's the most wonderful time of the year, yes, but it's also extremely stressful for people,” Chesnut said. “The reality of the financial strain that the holidays can bring is real.”
She said the district works with organizations that try to lessen the burden for families, like Coldwater of Lee's Summit, which hosts a clothes closet and food bank year-round.
Chesnut said Coldwater, along with local churches and other organizations, delivered baskets filled with holiday meals to families who don’t have access to transportation. The Lee's Summit Community Church also “adopted” many families to ensure every child got a toy from their wish list.
Chesnut said Rediscover offers mental health services seven days a week for families.
Kansas City Public Schools
Earlier this month, each student at Faxon Elementary School got to pick out two gifts from tables full of toys to take home. The school’s gym was filled with gifts provided by Vazquez Commercial Contracting.
Kathryn Bell, the school’s vice principal, said it was a blessing to watch the community come together to provide for students.
“Some of our students come from various different backgrounds, and they are not as blessed as everyone is over the break,” Bell said. “It's just wonderful to be able to give them something to smile and be happy about.”
Bell said the school has more than 60 volunteers who visit on a regular basis to talk to students. She said it also relies on different companies to donate clothes, gifts and books for students — and parent liaison Carla Hubbard to make those connections.
A comprehensive look at district and community resources for KCPS families can be found here.
Shawnee Mission School District
The Shawnee Mission School District has social workers in all of its schools and counselors in its secondary schools — creating what homelessness liaison David Aramovich calls a “community within a community” in each building.
“We have eyeballs on so many of our students and our families,” Aramovich said. “We try to be very sensitive and thoughtful in our approach towards our students who are food insecure and try to make sure that they have as much as we have, resource-wise, within our schools.”
Aramovich said schools also have supplies to send kids home with over the holidays — like food, through the district’s connection with Harvesters, and winter-appropriate clothes. The First Baptist Church of Overland Park’s sewing leader, Jeanne Fagan, knitted dozens of hats, scarves and blankets for Shawnee Mission families.
This year, the school district received COVID relief money specifically for students experiencing housing instability and used it to fund a holiday meal for families prepared by its student-run Broadmoor Bistro.
Throughout the year, students in need can access a clothing exchange, weekly health clinics and social services through the district’s Project Home program. The program connects families with local social service agencies to find permanent housing.