The Edmonds School District bus stopped one October morning and the kids scrambled off. All but one little girl, who sat in the back and would not leave. The driver went back to see what was wrong.
He found the girl frantically eating a jelly packet. She was afraid that was the only food she would have that day.
When Kim Gorney heard about that moment, it rocked her; she wondered: “How could we have hungry kids in this school district?” So that October, in 2014, Gorney set out to get answers.
The non-profit organization she founded, Washington Kids in Transition, has grown to help pack snack sacks for more than 600 children every school day who are homeless or whose families struggle to keep food on the table. Bus drivers give out the snacks on the ride home.
Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, Washington Kids in Transition has a new focus: to help those struggling families that have no safety net, with parents who are laid off, or who may not qualify for unemployment. Among them are some high school students who live entirely on their own, or children who may be staying with friends, couch surfing.
The most important thing for homeless or at-risk families, Gorney believes, is a roof over their heads. The charity will now provide funds for these families to “help make up the difference in what their rent payments cost,” so they don’t lose their apartments, she said.
For some on unemployment, that may mean just a couple hundred extra dollars a month to meet the rent. For others, it will mean a bigger subsidy to get through this crisis.
Gorney expects the need to increase dramatically. “We’re just sitting on the edge waiting,” she says. She anticipates that by June, it may get applications for help from as many as 100 families.
The organization is working with community partners, and trying to secure grants. They are also reaching out to residents in the communities that make up the school district — Edmonds, Lynnwood, Brier, Mountlake Terrace, Woodway and parts of the unincorporated county — for help. Here’s a donation link for the Washington Kids in Transition website. It is a tax-exempt 501 (c) 3 organization.
Washington Kids in Transition has evolved since that October of 2014, when Gorney discovered that at least 300 children a day came to school either hungry or did not have enough to eat.
She rounded up some moms and started packing snack bags; inside were some protein, carbohydrates and fruit. This year, before the coronavirus outbreak, the need had doubled — and they were providing the little bags to almost 650 children a day.
The group helps supplement a federal program (the McKinney-Vento Act) that mandates that when a child becomes homeless, districts must do everything they can to keep those children in their current school to maintain a stable learning environment for them. That includes providing emergency food, short-term motel stays, rental assistance and permanent housing support.
Tuesdays and Thursdays, drop-off bins are outside the group’s Lynnwood offices (19721 Scriber Lake Road, unit B — just behind Joann Fabrics in Lynnwood) for donations of canned or boxed food, cleaning supplies and laundry detergent to help the families it serves.
But, it is during the COVID-19 pandemic that Washington Kids in Transition expects to meet its biggest challenge: to keep those kids — and their families — safe and housed as they struggle. They have received a grant from Verdant Health Commission in Lynnwood to help; and their corporate and community partners range from small shops and offices to large companies.
“Our support has been the most incredible part of this journey; it’s the kindness in the community,” Gorney says. All sparked when a little girl eating a jelly packet wouldn’t get off her school bus because she was afraid she wouldn’t have anything else to eat that day.
— By Bob Throndsen