All the elements for a successful Easter have been neatly laid out on tables inside the KIC-IT Youth Center.
Two-liter bottles of regular and pink lemonade had been arranged in rows. Packets of instant potatoes, canned vegetables and jars of jelly were ready to be packed into food baskets.
Brightly colored plastic eggs, candies, toys and other surprises were stacked next to plastic buckets.
In the days to come, all of this Easter food, drink and goodies would be wrapped up and distributed to families in need.
“Social service agencies do a really good job of covering Christmas and Thanksgiving, but I realized nobody does anything on Easter, even though it’s a big holiday celebrated by families,” said Katie Schwarz, director executive of KIC-IT. “We wanted to help people in need during the holidays.
KIC-IT, with the help of community donors, will distribute meal parcels to help feed more than 400 people across the county. Families will receive holiday staples such as a pre-cooked ham, instant potatoes, applesauce, vegetables and lemonade for a well-rounded Easter dinner.
The Easter Bunny will also help brighten up the season for kids, providing candy baskets, crackers and other goodies.
KIC-IT officials hope the distribution will serve those in need at a time of year when there is not as much aid available to fight hunger.
“When you serve families, you see the appreciation and gratitude from the adults, because they get a meal. But then you see the kids, who are excited and happy because they’re also getting something,” Schwarz said.
KIC-IT has worked within the Johnson County community for a decade to address the homelessness crisis. The organization works with other groups and organizations to support young people between the ages of 16 and 25 who are struggling to break the cycle of homelessness.
Staff provide case management to support clients and create plans to address their challenges. A drop-in center is available where people can do laundry, eat a meal, use computers, and socialize with others. Pantry and hygiene items are also available for those in need.
This will be the third year for the KIC-IT Easter distribution. Schwarz created the event in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic created additional tension and crisis for families across the region.
Although Easter is an important holiday for a number of Johnson County residents, Schwarz was unaware of any assistance programs for local residents at this time of year.
The first year, KIC-IT distributed about 20 meals. The distribution has grown to provide between 40 and 50 meals in 2021, as well as 75 Easter baskets.
This year, Schwarz plans to distribute more than 100 packed lunches, feeding more than 400 people, while also providing 220 packed lunches for children. Entries came from all parts of the county.
“When I look at the household income and size, who we serve in Johnson County, it’s really humbling to see the need and also the opportunity to have an impact,” she said.
To find out who needed help, KIC-IT opened registration through other social service agencies and community partners. Officials have also worked with churches and schools to provide guidance for people struggling with food insecurity.
A social media link also allowed people to sign up, Schwarz said. Some of the information collected included basic contacts, where in the county they live, household size, and household income.
“So we’re able to see demographics from an agency perspective. We are able to see how many children and ages, to have age appropriate baskets. And an Easter dinner for a three-person household is very different from a nine-person household,” Schwarz said. “We wanted to be prepared for the families we serve.”
Meals are the main components of the baskets, and each package contains items that can be easily prepared, even if families only have a microwave.
People get pre-cooked ham, mashed potatoes with just water, applesauce, prepackaged cookies, easy-to-cook vegetables, butter or apple jelly, and a drink.
KIC-IT also collects plastic eggs, candy, coloring books, crayons, and other items that would go in a child’s Easter basket.
“Kids love Easter baskets, and it’s a financial hardship for families who might struggle,” Schwarz said. “There are free Easter egg hunts and things like that, but it’s not quite the same as getting a basket.”
While the cast provides immediate relief to local families, Schwarz also sees a chance to provide additional support in the future.
“Most of the people we’re going to serve aren’t familiar with KIC-IT or all of the programs we offer. It’s exciting for us to reach new people,” she said.
Over the next few days, an army of volunteers, from students at Franklin Community High School to area churches to businesses such as Horizon Bank and Amazon, will fill baskets and help with distribution.
KIC-IT will collect items from their Easter grocery list from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at their youth center. The more donations, the more people will be helped over the holiday season, Schwarz said.
“I don’t know of any other social service that organizes meal-style meals around Easter, so just being able to meet this need in the community is a blessing,” she said.