After she was caught stealing fruit snacks from another little girl, the kindergartner at Meadowbrook Elementary stood before Kristen Smith.
"Why did you take the fruit snacks?" asked Smith, the Gladstone school's community resource specialist.
"I don't have any snacks at home," the 5-year-old replied.
Smith asked the girl if her family had enough to eat at home.
"She basically said, 'We hardly have any food in the cabinets,'" Smith said. "The reason she was stealing the fruit snacks out of the other girl's backpack was she was hungry."
Since then, someone has donated bags of pretzels so kindergartners at Meadowbrook, in the North Kansas City School District, can have daily snacks. And the little girl's family now receives a bag of food each Friday from a community group — enough for at least one full meal over the weekend.
Smith's job at Meadowbrook is to connect families with resources — food or clothes or educational tools — to make sure their children succeed in school. In the past two years, she's seen a greater need for food.
Many of the kids she sees are referred by teachers or counselors, who see firsthand the children who don't have enough to eat. Sometimes they're distracted in class because they haven't had breakfast. Other times they complain of stomach aches.
Two weeks ago, a sixth-grader from Antioch Middle School — where Smith also works — came to see the resource specialist.
"She said, 'We don't have anything for dinner tonight,'" Smith said.
Smith and other school staffers worked through the day and collected food to send home with the sixth-grader. The family was in a tough spot, Smith later learned. They had enough food for Wednesday night, but not Thursday.
"It's more the working poor we see," Smith said. "The people who are making just enough to not qualify for food stamps but don't have enough food in between paychecks."
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