The food insecurity rate is significantly higher in Riley County compared to the rest of the state of Kansas. This is measured on a rating scale of how bad food insecurity is from 1-10, with ten being the the highest rate of food security. Riley County at 5.3 while the Kansas averages at 7.5. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as meaning “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”
So, to address the questions why the rate of food insecurity is so high and what can be done to fix this problem, we find many answers close to home. The Staley School of Leadership Studies has gone to great lengths working to help food insecurity in the county.
The school partners with the Flint Hills Breadbasket. This partnership has been established for almost 13 years, with the school working to raise money and collect cans from the community, according to Kerry Priest, assistant professor in the school.
LEAD 212, the introductory class in the school, takes on the responsibility of Cats 4 Cans, a project that allows students the opportunity to collect cans in the community for the Flint Hills Bread Basket. Last year the LEAD 212 students collected 15,978 pounds and $1,635.30 for the Flint Hills Breadbasket and it continues to grow every year, according to the K-State website.
“This is a great project to teach our students about service learning and, specifically, that can collection is minor piece to the puzzle, but really does make a huge difference,” Priest said.
Lynda Bachelor, project coordinator in the school, gave answers to fixing the problem as well as why food insecurity is so high here.
“The way we address this problem is to increase food pantries/banks as well as mobile food pantries and that will lead to regular meals for the impoverished and finally, food policies need to be put in place,” Bachelor said.
Surrounding regions have already developed food policies to further treat this problem. Riley County is part of a region that has yet to develop any policies.
“There has been a food policy council put in place and (they) are working diligently on coming up policies,” Bachelor said.
According to Maribeth Kieffer, executive director for the Flint Hills Breadbasket, donations are important because the Breadbasket “doesn’t receive any federal, state, county or city funding.”
“We’re totally funded by the graciousness of people that live in Manhattan,” Kieffer said. “That’s why I can’t say thank you to them enough because they’re the ones that make all this work.”
Students have also become passionate about the issue of food insecurity and have taken initiative to help outside of just class requirements. Shandell Gallardo, senior in public relations with a minor in leadership studies, is currently a class leader for a LEAD 212 class and is also interning at The Flint Hills Breadbasket.
“In order to treat this problem effectively, other organizations are involved,” Gallardo said. “The Flint Hills Breadbasket partners with five churches and Harvesters; it is totally a collaborative effort.”
Kieffer said that the help from the entire community is what helps to fix this issue.
“There are so many different departments at K-State that make this happen, and then there’s the businesses downtown, there’s the private individual donors,” Kieffer said. “All those pieces make the puzzle complete. So we couldn’t do it without any one of those areas.”
In addition to donors and contributors, volunteers are also a large part of the process at the Flint Hills Breadbasket. Kieffer said she wants to emphasize how helpful and necessary the volunteers are, and how many people the Breadbasket has grown to help in the past few years.
“I think for anyone that comes down here and volunteers, they see that the need is truly here and we couldn’t do it without the volunteers that come here because, again, when I came in May of (2011), we were helping around 11,000 people and now we are helping over 25,000 people and we could never do it without the volunteers that come in here and make everything happen,” Kieffer said.
So while food insecurity is lower than the state average, K-State, the Flint Hills Breadbasket and the Manhattan community are working to make that less of a problem.
“I just want to say thank you to the Manhattan community,” Kieffer said. “I’m always so humbled by how gracious they are to help us here at the Breadbasket. We do have accountability for our clients that use the Breadbasket and, again, Manhattan is just phenomenal. I don’t know that there’s any other town in the state, in Kansas, that is as phenomenal as the people that live here in Manhattan and take care of their own.”