A holiday tradition for Rotary Club and Kids Unlimited started with one student’s Christmas wish.

Cheryl Harrison’s daughter worked at KU in 2017, when she overheard a boy saying he hoped to receive peanut butter for Christmas. As soon as Harrison heard her daughter’s story, she went to Medford’s Food 4 Less and bought enough peanut butter for each student to take a jar home for winter break.

“Christmas break can be kind of scary food for people,” said Harrison, referencing the lack of nutrition resources for many children when school isn’t in session.

It’s a need that Harrison’s fellow Rotary members meet with ready-to-eat, yet nutritious, foods. Fresh fruit, breakfast bars and other items that require no heating or refrigeration top Harrison’s list. Items must be free of high-fructose corn syrup or other unwholesome ingredients, she said.

Shopping at Costco, Rotary members allocate about $5,000 for the annual project, which fills approximately 600 grocery bags. This year, about a dozen volunteers pitched in Dec. 12 and spent about an hour and 30 minutes assembling bags.

“I always make sure the peanut butter is already stirred,” said Harrison, adding that a lot of kids, especially younger ones, wouldn’t otherwise know what to do with the contents of the jar.

Although many households take for granted this pantry staple, peanut butter is a prized commodity, said Tom Cole, KU founder and CEO.

“It has been the simplest of gestures,” said Cole. “But we realize a lot of our kids go hungry during the holiday times.”

Because not all living arrangements are equipped for cooking, and not all households furnish regular meals, foods that kids can prepare themselves are even more important. KU’s food program in 2022 served more than 401,000 nutritious meals — each cooked from scratch using fresh ingredients in our on-site kitchen. All students at KU Academy public charter school are eligible for free breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the majority obtain most of their daily nutrition on our campus.

Dinner is delivered each school day to participants in KU afterschool programs at Medford’s highest poverty elementary schools. Meals additionally are available during summer break.

Read more in our annual Hope for the Holidays mailer. And support our efforts by making a donation.