There are hungry people in Pratt. We might not see them because they don't want to be seen, either out of pride or fear, or because we don't look for them.
They are there — elderly people whose Social Security doesn't stretch far enough to cover both prescriptions and food, and young families who work for minimum wages but by the time they pay the rent, utilities and gasoline to get to work, have little left for food, said Walt Stockwell, who founded Pass It Forward Charities, Inc., a few years ago and is the board president of a new Bread of Life Community Kitchen Inc. of Pratt, Kansas.
Bread of Life organized in July and is working toward 501c3 non-profit status. The goal is to serve as an emergency food resource and to work with the Hope Center being organized as a project of the Pratt County Ministers Association to coordinate resources of 70-some helping agencies.
They don't intend to duplicate the efforts of the local food bank.
"The food bank is providing a wonderful service in the town, but they're limited in what they can do," Stockwell said. "We're trying to pick up at the point where they have to stop."
The primary purpose is to feed Pratt's hungry. Right now, the organization is helping about 15 people, and that's all they can manage with current resources. In the future, however, Bread of Life volunteers hope to acquire a building, deliver meals when other meal programs are closed, such as on weekends and holidays, and serve food on site.
Stockwell shied away from the term "soup kitchen," but agreed what they have in mind is similar to such programs in other communities.
Giving out food is the first step; the next is helping people learn how to shop for and prepare nutritious food, to extend the food dollars they do have available. Bread of Life plans to partner with Hope Center, which has teaching financial management as one of its goals.
Bread of Life organizers stress that they're not enabling by giving something away free; but meeting an immediate need to help people help themselves out of their situation.
Stockwell shared some stories, without mentioning names.
A family of two parents and four children was referred to him by neighbors and churches who were trying to help. The father had a job; the family received food stamps; and from month to month they were able to pay the bills. The mother stayed home with a special needs child for whom proper care was too expensive. The father was required to work overtime for one month, and that put their income over the threshold for food stamps. To get back on the program, they had to prove their eligibility over a period of six months. Before the six months was up, the extra income from overtime was used up, and the food stamps they had relied on were not available.
During the winter, Stockwell received information about a woman and baby living in a car. He's convinced they would have frozen to death, if he hadn't been able to provide some help. The woman now lives in a house and is in school to become a nurse.
Forty-four percent of the school children in Pratt County qualify for free or reduced lunches. During the summer, 150 children took advantage of free lunches provided by USD 382.
A Bread of Life brochure explains how a working family can be in need of food.
The minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.50 an hour, or about $1,200 a month for a 40-hour week. Take-home pay is around $900 a month; rental properties in Pratt cost about $500, utilities may total $200 (Stockwell thinks that amount is low) and fuel to get to work may cost $100. Add medications, doctor visits, personal items, insurance, etc. — and we haven't even gotten to the food expense.
The Bread of Life organization wants people to look for and to see hunger in Pratt, and do what they can to end it. They held a fund-raiser meal in September, and turnout was less than expected. They will try again, with more fund-raisers. The volunteer base is growing, Stockwell said.
More information is at the group's website: breadoflifecommunitykitchen.com.