The Coalition: ICT works around COVID-19 to feed homeless Wichitans


Audrey Korte

The Coalition: ICT hands out food to homeless and vulnerable Wichitans last week in Riverside Park.

Stay-at-home orders are particularly taxing to those with no homes to stay in. While churches, schools, and restaurants are shuttering their doors and CNN reports that 250 million Americans are on some form of lockdown, one group of Wichitans is left wondering where their next meal will come from or if it will come at all. 

Homeless populations rely on social services, outreach, and thousands of volunteer hours a year to get by. Those resources are quickly drying up. 

“It’s getting really, really hard to find food in Wichita for the homeless,” said Allen Stoker, president of the The Coalition: ICT board of directors.

Meanwhile, demand has risen sharply this month. 

“We were normally feeding 70 to 100 people,” Stoker said. 

“[Sunday], we passed out over 200 sack lunches,” he said. “We actually needed more. There was a lady who showed up late and called me after we left and said there were still people there hungry.”

The Coalition: ICT aims to help restore dignity and end homelessness through creative partnerships with the city, charitable groups, and other organizations, to provide a multi-layered support system for people who are homeless. 

Every Sunday, The Coalition: ICT offers free meals to those in need, but as unemployment numbers rapidly rise and local day-to-day business operations shutter their doors, the homeless population has been hit hard.

The group has been meeting at Riverside Park at 1 p.m. every Sunday to hand out food to those in need. 

“We had different groups that were responsible for the same weekend each month,” Stoker said. “They would prepare a big meal. We would set up three or four tables. We would have all our food lined up on the table.”

People looking for a meal would line up with a plate or a to-go container. After getting food, people could take clothing and hygiene items as well, Stoker said.

As a result of a county-wide Covid-19-related order March 16 banning large groups, organizations like The Coalition: ICT are facing new struggles.

“The mandate now has determined they’re going to allow us to still be as long as 

we do not have groups of more than 10 people,” Stoker said. “We cannot set up tables. It basically has to be a grab-and-go and people can’t congregate in the park.”

Stoker said he found out this weekend that Coalition: ICT can no longer use tables for distribution.

He said they plan to set up six different stations in parking lots across the city. People can come through, grab a sack lunch and a drink, and leave, Stoker said. 

“I’ve had so many people tell me that there’s only two or three groups feeding homeless Wichitans during the week now,” Stoker said. “As opposed to, we were having 20 to 30 a week.”

He said Breakthrough/Episcopal Social Services serves breakfast for one hour in the morning. The Lord’s Diner passes out to-go boxes at their location seven nights a week, he said.

Stoker’s biggest concern is not having enough food and resources to provide for everyone who shows up hungry.

“All food comes through donations from the people who partner with us,” he said.

On Sunday, he said they had about five people make 20 to 40 sack lunches per person.

“I had a man say to me yesterday, ‘It’s getting so hard to eat out here I’m going to have to start robbing people,” Stoker said. “Of course we don’t condone that but it shows a shift.

“Before, we would send people home with too much. There’d be times when we had eight or 10 groups show up out of the blue.”

Stoker said he believes typical providers don’t understand how the mandate works. He wants people to take the time to do research and figure out how to work with authorities to keep serving vulnerable Wichitans, despite the new limitations.

“I’m not going to stop. If I have a sandwich to give someone, I’ll be out there giving it to them,” Stoker said. “If I have to stand on the corner by myself, I will.”

He said he’s not the only one who feels that way. Others out there are working tirelessly to take care of those who need help. 

“We have people who are willing to do it and we know how to do it,” Stoker said. “We just need the public to realize there is a great need here. Now. 

“We understand times are tough for everybody, so we can’t ask anybody to do a lot, but if everybody does a little bit, nobody has to do a lot.”

Stoker said anyone can make a donation to help out. That being said, some donations are more useful than others. 

“Any kind of food product that can be consumed by someone without a kitchen,” he said. “With canned goods, it needs to be a pop top because most of them don’t have can openers. If it’s something they need a fork or spoon with, we need plasticware and napkins. Individual-sized drinks, chips, snack packs anything we can make a good sack meal with.”

People with food to donate can conact Coalition: ICT through their Facebook page or Stoker at (316) 550-3690.

Stoker said many restaurants that usually make regular donations are now closed. Still, he remains hopeful that people will heed the call to donate.

“This country has a great history of helping people out when there’s a natural disaster or something like that, and this is one of those times when we just need to step up and remember our neighbors,” Stoker said.