POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Since the pandemic, KidsPACK’s reach has expanded to 3,085 food-insecure children in 80 schools across the county at a time when buying food items in bulk remains a challenge.

That number more than doubled from 1,200 children before the pandemic in 2019.

“It was a perfect storm for the climate of the pandemic, we’ve got housing, we’ve got hunger,” said Amy Royal, program manager at KidsPACK. “A lot of these things just came together to make the situation that we’re in now.”

KidsPACK provides food for children experiencing food insecurity to take home for the weekend.

Polk County Public Schools and the HEARTH project decide which students would benefit most from the backpacks.

There are currently 308 children on the waitlist due to budget constraints, according to Royal.

“The supply chain in itself because of the economy the way it is has backed off a little, but the increase in our children, the demands, we just cannot meet through local grocery stores,” she said.

Some items can be difficult to purchase in bulk, including apple sauce which Royal said is now back-ordered. Bridging the gap between need and supply takes the whole community.

“Our organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis that support us, Grace Giving who supports us,” she said.

Grace Giving for KidsPACK was founded in August 2020 by realtor Debbie Miller, who posted on Facebook what items KidsPACK needed and easy ways to donate them.

“People can, from the comfort of their home, just order the food, ship it to an approved address and we can deliver it to KidsPACK every day and it just took off like wildfire. It was unbelievable,” she said.

According to Miller, the group has donated $100,000 worth of food since its inception, including a pallet of donations gathered during an event at Bungalow Boutique this week.

“If you do not feed their bellies, you can’t feed their mind. You can’t teach them and they’re the future of our city so you want to break the cycle that they’re in,” she said.

To follow Grace Giving for KidsPACK, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/229580005070284.

To learn how to donate directly to KidsPACK or sponsor a student, visit https://www.kidspack.org/ and click “Donate.”