Kiwanis fundraiser to help feed hungry studentsPacks for Kids program plans to keep expanding in Mukilteo
Since 2010, the Packs for Kids program in Mukilteo has survived off food drives, monetary donations and help from school staff, but it’s never held a fundraiser – until now.
“Every year, we have about three food drives to generate food,” program coordinator Oran Smith-Osterman of Everett said. “This is the first fundraiser event we have ever done.”
Paul Salas of the Mukilteo Kiwanis Club said club members have been volunteering on food drives for the program for the past four years.
“The program’s vision and focus on youth and kids is very consistent with the Kiwanis Club, especially our club in Mukilteo,” Salas said. “If we don’t support our kids, we’re in trouble. We are very passionate about our local youth and their viability going forward.”
Smith-Osterman, a club member herself, said her fellow club members encouraged her to organize the fundraiser, not just to raise money but also to increase awareness.
“The more people know about us and what we’re doing, the better we can help hungry kids and their families in our community,” Smith-Osterman said.
As a child, Smith-Osterman’s mother would invite anyone in their neighborhood to come over and eat if they didn’t have enough food themselves, she said.
“We would help anyone in our neighborhood who needed food to eat,” she said. “Since my mom did that, I’ve always seen it as a normal thing to do.”
In 2010, Smith-Osterman and her husband were involved with committees at Olympic View Middle School, where her stepdaughter attended.
“The principal noticed that kids were coming to school hungry after the weekend,” she said. “Sometimes kids who are on the free and reduced-price meals program at the schools don’t always have food to eat at home. That’s when it was determined we would start this program in Mukilteo.”
In 2011, the program expanded to Mukilteo Elementary School next door. That’s as far as it got before Smith-Osterman realized in 2013 that students in other schools in the district needed the program just as badly. Since then, she has worked to add one school to the program each year.
“We want to add a new school each year to grow the program and allow more kids to get beyond not having enough food over the weekend,” she said.
So far, the program has added Horizon Elementary School, Fairmount Elementary School, Explorer Middle School and Mariner High School.
“One would think, ‘Why would Mukilteo school district need this sort of program?’” Salas said. “But the district extends into areas that really do need this kind of program.”
Last year, the program served about 165 students districtwide, with the greatest number of packs being distributed at Olympic View and Mukilteo, where the program has had the most time to take hold. That’s why more students there receive packs despite having a lower percentage of students on the free and reduced-price lunch program than some other schools in the district.
“Now, we are targeting schools with 60 percent of the students on the free and reduced-price lunch program,” she said, noting that some 85 percent of students at Horizon are on that program. “That is the school with the greatest need. The majority of students there are living in food insecure households.”
When Horizon was brought into the program, it did not have a safe place to store food for distribution to students, so Smith-Osterman worked to have a shed built especially for that purpose.
“I can’t do that for every school, so having pantry space available is key,” she said, noting that she has not yet identified the next school she’ll bring into the program. “The schools also need people to lead the program there. Someone at the school needs to organize the stuffing of packs with food, do some basic reporting and collect permission slips.”
Students are given permission slips at the start of the school year to take home to their parents. Without those, students won’t be offered a pack, she said.
Smith-Osterman makes bulk purchases of food from WinCo Foods, and a representative of each school picks up the food and brings it back to their school.
At most schools, students and staff team up to stuff the packs with canned tuna, Chicken Helper, boxed macaroni and cheese, cereal or oatmeal, canned soup, granola, applesauce, canned vegetables and fruit, and other snacks.
At Mariner High School, though, students visit one of five pantries around the school to fill their packs themselves, recording what they take each time, she said. At the other schools, students pick up their pre-stuffed packs in the main office.
Despite the program’s growth, Smith-Osterman said many children whose families need help providing food are not being served.
“There are still lots of kids in that situation of not always having food at home to eat,” she said. “It’s not because their parents aren’t trying. For many, they simply don’t make enough money to buy enough food.”
Spaghetti luncheon fundraiser set
Join the Mukilteo Kiwanis Club from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 12, at the Rosehill Community Center for a spaghetti lunch, raffle and silent auction in support of the Packs for Kids program.
Raffle basket themes include University of Washington Huskies, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners and more. The silent auction is for a seven-night stay at a WorldMark Wyndham Resort and a $2,000 gift certificate for a fireplace or other item from Mukilteo’s Travis Industries.
The suggested donation is $10 for adults, $5 for children.