For students who may not get enough to eat at home, there are a number of programs in the community to help.
From schools’ free and reduced breakfasts and lunches, to Lake Washington Schools Foundation’s Pantry Packs providing supplemental food over the weekend, to summer lunch programs offering nutritious meals when school is not in session, most of the bases are covered.
But a few years ago, a group of Kirkland residents got to talking and realized that there was one area that was not: extended breaks throughout the school year.
“What happens at Christmas break and Thanksgiving break?” asked Kirkland resident Lynette Apley.
This question led to the creation of Kirkland Nourishing Networks, a community group Apley is part of that provides families in need with food to last them through these longer breaks.
On the second-to-last day before a break, members of the community drop off boxes of food in the morning at a designated location. Later in the afternoon, families go to the location to pick up their boxes.
“It’s a flash mob,” said Apley, who has organized the drop-off and pick-up days for the last five years.
Kirkland council member Dave Asher, who is also involved in KNN, described it as “drive-by volunteerism” as people can just drop off their food box and be on their way.
KNN is in its sixth year and while the group started out serving just the north Kirkland communities, the group’s efforts have now expanded to reach south Kirkland. Kendra Petkau had been the organizer for the south part of town for the last couple of years but this year, Apley said she has passed it on to Kim Convertino.
In north Kirkland, the pick-up and drop-off location is at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at 13220 N.E. 132nd St. The south Kirkland location is at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at 7720 126th Ave. N.E
While acknowledging hunger in the community was the easy part, identifying who is hungry was a bit more challenging for KNN.
“Not everyone who is hungry wants to raise their hand,” Apley said.
To help her identify who might need a little help, she works with school counselors, who know what is going on in their buildings.
When KNN first started, they served about 25 families at John Muir Elementary School. Since then, Apley said the north Kirkland group has expanded to include other elementary schools as well as secondary schools as there are some families who may be hungry but do not have elementary-aged students.
Apley said over the years, she has had between 50 and 60 families picking up boxes but this Thanksgiving, she said there were 146 families in north Kirkland who needed a little help. Despite the amount of need more than doubling this year, KNN was able to provide a box of food for everyone.
“Kirkland steps up,” Apley said. “It has been unbelievable.”
She added that KNN is not an official nonprofit organization, just a network of neighbors who want to help. They spread the word about the need for food boxes through their personal email contact lists and social media accounts.
Apley said she holds the drop-off and pick-up days on the second-to-last day before a break because that allows her to contact school counselors to let them know if a family has not picked up their food and the counselors can contact those families the next day or bring the food boxes to their schools to give to the families that way.
The counselors are the lynch pin of the program as they are the ones who know what is happening in the schools, are in contact with families and can relay information back to Apley.
The boxes of food contain items that are part of a list that is available on the KNN website at tinyurl.com/y7mvzhv9.
Apley said they worked with a nutritionist to come up with a list that balances nutritional needs with ethnic, cultural and food sensitivity needs. The boxes are about 30 pounds of food and run between about $40 and $45. They include perishable items such as fresh produce as well as items with a longer shelf life such as peanut butter.
People will also bring in specialty items such as baby formula, diapers and assorted toiletries. These are set aside and families can pick these up along with their food box, as needed.
In addition to individuals and families, Apley said other volunteers providing food boxes include groups ranging from churches to scout troops to local businesses.
Kirkland council member Toby Nixon, who is also involved with the network, said KNN is a deeper level of engagement than just donating money to a nonprofit, adding that some people even decorate the boxes to give them a more personal touch.