There's lots of reasons why a student might come to school with an empty stomach, but volunteers from Love INC are doing what they can to make sure they don't go to class that way.
Love INC, which stands for Love in the Name of Christ, is a Christian organization that does quite a bit of outreach on the Kenai Peninsula. One such project has been a breakfast program, which the organization has sponsored at four elementary schools Kalifornsky Beach, Tustumena in Kasilof, Redoubt in Soldotna, and Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science, formerly Sears, in Kenai.
While the district's Student Nutrition Services provides breakfast programs at 13 peninsula schools through the USDA school lunch program, the schools on which Love INC's efforts are focused do not have that program available.
Love INC is now in its sixth year of serving breakfasts to students. Marge Wiley, who coordinates the program for Love INC, said that during the last school year, volunteers served a total of 25,638 meals.
Wiley said the program started as an outreach project.
"Some of the teachers were reporting that kids were coming to school hungry, was there anything Love INC could do about it?" Wiley said.
The breakfasts served are fairly simple, usually cold cereal and milk. Wiley said she sometimes is able to provide granola bars, fruit cups or yogurt if she can find those items at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.
The program is staffed by volunteers, who dish up the bowls of cereal and then are responsible for putting things away, wiping off and folding up tables and, at one of the schools, quickly mopping the floor before the room is used for physical education class.
"We're always looking for more volunteers it's just an hour once a week," Wiley said.
Wiley said the program operates with a $3,000 grant from ABATE (Alaska Bikers Advocating Training and Education), a group of motorcyclists that raises money for charity. Other groups and businesses have pitched in. Wiley said a group at Kenai Central High School has provided some money, and donations have come from Fred Meyer, Safeway, Three Bears and Country Foods. Central Peninsula Hospital did a cereal drive for the program.
"It's easier to get cereal than volunteers, though it looks like we have all four schools staffed," she said.
Debbie Tressler, secretary at Kalifornsky Beach, said having a bowl of cereal available in the morning makes a big difference.
"The truth is, a lot of kids do come to school and they haven't eaten breakfast. It takes just a few minutes, but it does help a lot. Before we had this, we had kids coming to the nurse's office at 9 or 9:30 with stomach aches," Tressler said.
Currently, 40 to 50 students stop in for a bowl of cereal before school starts at 7:55, Tressler said, but that number will grow to 70 or 80 as the weather gets colder and some students choose to sit in the gym rather than going outside.
"You can tell which kids come to school hungry," Wiley said. "Some just don't want to go outside, but some come in and have three bowls."
Tressler said anybody can volunteer. At Kalifornsky Beach, one volunteer is a parent of a current student, one is a parent of a former student, and one is a community member who is just interested in helping out.
Wiley said anybody interested in volunteering, or school or community groups interested in conducting a cereal drive, can call Love INC at 283-5252, or her at 262-9586.
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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