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Kiwanis group works to feed homeless youth

The Nye County School District is seeing more students every day who arrive on their area campuses without having breakfast and not bringing anything for lunch.

There are 300 students in the district classified as homeless, with 13 students joining those ranks in November and December, according to the district.

Kiwanis Club is helping homeless and low income area students maintain a nutritious diet while attending class each day through its Food for Thought program.

The program feeds 501 students within the Pahrump attendance area, which increased by 25 students in the last two years.

Kiwanis’ Food for Thought Chairwoman Chanda Weiland said the need for volunteers to help sort and distribute food items is now at a critical point.

“We always need donations, but right now we really need volunteers because if we don’t have volunteers, we can’t get the food distributed, it’s not going to do us any good,” she said. “We also really need backup volunteers that can go into the schools. They have to be fingerprinted.”

Additionally, Weiland is looking for volunteers who are physically able to lift heavy boxes and other items.

“We need volunteers on every third Wednesday of each month to help unload trucks,” she said. “You don’t have to be fingerprinted for that position. We can also use volunteers that can help pack food bags once a month.”

Food for Thought provides the meals for students in all four area elementary schools, Rosemary Clarke Middle School as well as the high school.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act is a federal law that ensures enrollment and educational stability for homeless children and youth.

It also provides federal funding to states for the purpose of supporting district programs that serve homeless students. One element of the program ensures students do not attend class hungry.

While there are several organizations in the community that offer food assistance to residents in need, Weiland said Food for Thought was created exclusively for area students.

“Everyone that receives food from our organization is a student in school,” she said. “They can be from pre-kindergarten to high school, they can be home schooled, but they have to be enrolled in school. We don’t feed the parents because there are other food banks and if they have the need, they can go to them.”

Weiland said the food products are actually sent home with the students at the school, while parents of homeschooled students must pick up the items from the organization.

At the same time, she lamented that too many students that use the program are often bullied by other students.

The Food for Thought program at one time used backpacks for students to take their non-perishable food items home each week.

The organization has since altered the way students get their food items home.

“Sadly, there are kids picking on other kids because they found out that some of the kids are on the food program,” she said. “When the kids come back to class carrying two backpacks home on the bus, it’s kind of a given. We are trying it this year without the backpacks and it seems to be working so much better.”

Additionally, Weiland said the backpacks have become problematic in different ways.

“Everybody was assigned their own backpack and we really can’t take each backpack home and clean them every week or two,” she said. “Hygienically, the backpacks coming back to us were in bad condition. We see some that had animal urine on them while we’re hauling them around in our cars. We’ve had several issues with the backpacks and this year we’re eliminating them.”

Of all six schools in the community, Weiland said one elementary school on the far north end of town has the highest number of students receiving food assistance.

“We have about 10 at the high school, 45 at the middle school, which is down 60 students from last year,” she said. “Last year at Hafen Elementary we had 25 students, but this year we now have 80 students. Manse has 150, and J.G. Elementary is at 113 and Floyd is the lowest.”

Local families wanting to learn more about the program, or would care to donate, can call Shannon Moore at 775-910-3329.

Applications for the program can be obtained at the school offices or families can register on site at the New Hope Fellowship facility located at 781 West St.

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