AUGUSTA — Cony High School student Kaleb Brann likes giving away food because he knows what families bring home isn’t always enough.

Brann, a volunteer with other Augusta Boys and Girls Club members, is helping to run the new Kids Pantry at Buker Community Center. He knows what it’s like to struggle because his family has used a food bank before and, he said, “it helped us quite a bit, too. The community has given me so many opportunities, I’m just trying to give back to it.”

Listing a partial inventory of what the Kids Pantry has in stock to give away to local youths, including cold milk, frozen ground turkey, canned ravioli, cereal, canned vegetables, applesauce and raisins, Brann said, “I think any of this would help out a family a lot.”

The new program, which joins a growing list of local initiatives meant to help make sure children don’t go hungry in Augusta, is a partnership of the local Boys and Girls Club, the Augusta Food Bank and the city.

The Augusta Food Bank provides the food that is now stocked in a former storage area at the city-owned Buker Community Center. Boys and Girls Club staff and members run the program, assisting youths, or parents on behalf of their children, in obtaining food at the pantry, which is open from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and supplies participants with about two days’ worth of meals and healthy snacks.

The new pantry was created with $5,500 from the Augusta Childcare Bureau, which shares space at the Buker Community Center with the Boys and Girls Club and pantry.

Darren Joyce, the club’s program director, said with the club, a child care program and the Augusta recreation program all using the building, there are some 200 children at Buker Community Center on some summer days, making it a convenient spot where children in any of those programs easily could go to the pantry to pick up some food to take home.

“It’s a very busy community center,” Joyce said.

He said children don’t have to bring any paperwork to show they qualify for the food pantry. They need only to show up when the pantry is open. There is also no limit on the number of times children can use the pantry per week; they can come both Tuesday and Thursday.

“We wanted to make it very low-barrier,” he said. “We just want to help people that need food.”

It has been slow so far, with only about a half-dozen kids coming to pick up food there in the couple of weeks since it opened.

Jacob McKechnie, another Cony student and Boys and Girls Club member volunteering at the food pantry, said he hopes and believes more youths will use the service once word about it spreads.

“I hope it picks up soon,” he said. “I really like the idea of it. I know food banks don’t always fill the need. I think this will help.”

The pantry is at least in part meant to be a summertime version of a program that gives out backpacks full of food to Augusta school students once a week during the school year, to make sure they have enough food to eat over the weekends.

This year the school, with numerous sponsorships by companies, organizations and individuals, distributed food backpacks to about 130 students to take home on weekends.

Ward 2 City Councilor Darek Grant said the food pantry was established by city, school, food bank and Boys and Girls Club staff members to make sure children relying on the backpack program, and any others in need of food, wouldn’t be left hungry during the summer. Earlier this year, Grant successfully convinced his fellow councilors to make “supporting those in need,” including addressing youth hunger, one of the council’s goals.

Grant said he’s proud of how the community came together to create the program, and also for donating enough money so that by the end of the year, there were no longer any waiting lists to get food through the backpack program. Until this year, there were waiting lists to participate.

“Kudos to city staff, the Boys and Girls Club and Augusta Food Bank. I think (the Kids Pantry) is a great partnership we’re seeing in Augusta, with those three,” Grant said. “The initiative of the members of the Boys and Girls Club to step up and help and provide the work to make it happen, that’s the neatest part of this whole endeavor. You’ve got these younger people stepping up to help those who maybe need some help in the community. Hopefully, at the end of the day, these volunteers are learning how to make a difference. As we get more and more of our community involved, we can make a difference.”

The new Kids Pantry is in addition to the existing summer nutrition lunch program, which is funded with federal money received through the school system. The program provides bagged lunches at four city parks — Calumet, Williams, McCall’s and Cunningham — to the city child care program, the Recreation Department, and Glenridge Gardens Apartments and Greentree Apartments.

Grant said Greentree Apartments is the newest site where the lunch program takes meals for children.

As was the case at the Kids Pantry, participation in the Greentree Apartments lunch program is starting off slowly but is growing.

“This is one more piece to the effort of addressing childhood hunger in the community,” Grant said.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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