A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

St. Elizabeth, Food Pantry team up for take-home food boxes so kids don’t go hungry this summer

By Patricia A. Scheyer
NKyTribune reporter

Summer is almost here, and for many families summer presents the problem of how to feed the kids without the benefit of the free breakfasts and lunches they have been getting at school all year. As everyone knows, just because summer is here doesn’t mean kids aren’t hungry.

Go Pantry, a 501C3 organization, has been trying to address the summer food problem for at least ten years. St Elizabeth Hospital has been partnering with Go Pantry for nine of those years.

Keri Hinson and Julie Wolking from St. Elizabeth check expiration dates on packages before sealing the boxes. (Photos by Patricia Scheyer/NKyTribune)

Now is the time that the teams at Go Pantry are assembling the food boxes and sending them out to schools in Boone, Kenton, Campbell, Owen, Grant and Dearborn counties, all in Kentucky except for Dearborn which is in Indiana.

“St Elizabeth Physicians initially got involved in the project,” said Guy Karrick, Public Relations Manager at St Elizabeth. “I think one of the doctors saw a need and became involved. Then they started challenging other departments to get involved, and now we have the entire organization involved. This is one of our big initiatives for the year.”

The warehouse at Go Pantry has been buzzing with activity this week as employees from St.
Elizabeth have pitched in to check all the food expiration dates in the boxes, and reseal them so they can go out on the trucks to the various schools.

“We send out close to 7000 boxes in total,” said Laura Dumancic, Executive Director of Go
Pantry. “We should be able to feed about 1200 kids a week. These are children who are signed up for the free and reduced lunch program at the schools, but when they go home for the summer, they don’t have that.”

UK senior Maddie Scherr and her dad Rick help check and pack boxes.

She said the Principal of Stephens Elementary, Eric Blankenship, was there in the morning, and he told her that there has been an uptick in behavioral issues, and he believes that some of it is caused by the anxiety that summer is coming. While for most kids, it is an exciting time, for other kids it means they have nothing to do, and nothing to eat.

One box will feed a family of four for a week, for breakfast, lunch and two light dinners, plus snacks. Each family receives a box for each of the last three weeks of June, and then a box for each of the last three weeks of July. Children go back to school in August.

Dumancic said everything in the box is non-perishable, but it is enough to get a family through a week. If the family has food stamps, or other means of obtaining food, they can supplement the boxed food with fresh fruit or fresh meats.

St.E. volunteers fill boxes.

She talked about a lady who came in that morning, and said that lady was a full circle story.

“She grew up very poor, in a food insecure home in Boone County,” Dumancic explained. “She grew up and got a good job at St Elizabeth and she wanted to give back to the community. That lady and her team of 15 people filled 50 boxes for us.”

Dumancic said they have been partnering with St Elizabeth for a long enough time that they have ‘champions’ at the hospital who form teams and then challenge other teams at the hospital, and a friendly competition grows every year. The teams can either raise money, since each box contains $55 worth of groceries, or they can take a generic list provided by Go Pantry, and shop for the items and put them in the provided box that is then taken to Go Pantry.

Many companies and churches also contribute to this effort, either providing money to sponsor the boxes, or creating a group that shops for the items according to the standardized list, and then the boxes are delivered to Go Pantry, where volunteers check the expiration dates and then seal up the boxes. The boxes are then either delivered to the schools, or the schools pick them up, and the boxes are distributed to the families through the schools.

Elmer Bales of St. Elizabeth shrink wraps a skid of food boxes ready to ship to schools.

Maddie Scherr, a local athlete who played basketball at Ryle High School, and is now at
University of Kentucky, started volunteering at Go Pantry this year, and she brought along her dad, Rick.

“Being able to give back to the community is very important to me,” Maddie said. “Being able to be in my hometown, and participating in this drive, is important to the community and it is important to me. I have partnered with St Elizabeth to take part in this.”

Dumancic said they also receive two grants, one for $20,000 and one for $50,000 from
foundations, not from any governmental agency, and those fill 1500 boxes.

But St Elizabeth set their goal this year at 4,000 boxes, a little more than half of what is needed for the summer, and that incredible goal was met Tuesday night. Their food drive is over on Friday.

‘We stay in our lane, and our lane is to provide food for kids that the schools have identified as food insecure,” said Dumancic. “Churches in the community help, and we have people sponsoring one box at a time. Anybody can help, in any sort of capacity, and it all adds up, and together we help these kids, one box at a time!”

Dr. Chanti Flanagan, St Elizabeth Hospitalist and Go Pantry Champion, is fully behind this drive.

“Our relationship with Go Pantry speaks to the heart of the people here at St Elizabeth,” she said. “There are just over 11,000 associates, providers, and physicians. Together we were able to generate over $220,000 worth of food to help feed the children in need in our community. It’s a testament to the culture at St Elizabeth — we believe in supporting those in need, especially here in our communities. It takes everyone, and it really is a heartwarming event. Whether you are rallying your teams, donating or volunteering, everyone comes together for one common cause. Makes me so proud to be part of this organization.”

Volunteers from St. Elizabeth work on each side of the aisle to get the job done.

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