PITTSBURG — Students and their families received some holiday joy Thursday at Meadowlark Elementary.

The Kids First Initiative gave gift baskets to 50 families of Meadowlark students. Baskets included canned goods, macaroni and cheese, a whole chicken and more. Students could also pick up ties and scarfs.

Kids First is a non-profit organization based in Pontiac, Michigan which provides food, clothing and other services to students and their families around the nation. President Richard Bell helped start the company in his home town roughly 10 years ago.

“Every day, children wake up hungry, they go to school hungry, and often they come home hungry,” Bell said. “We want to help remedy that.”

Kids First works with local organizations to build partnerships in cities around the nation. In Pittsburg, Bell worked with Communities in Schools to identify families and get the program started.

Communities in Schools Associate Director Lashawn Taylor grew up in Pontiac himself and reached out to Bell to bring Kids First to Meadowlark. It was the first time Kids First had come to Pittsburg, and Bell said the group is visiting its most cities ever this year.

“We’re stopping in 30 different locations,” Bell said. “Our goal is to give baskets to 10,000 families.”

Bell said it doesn’t stop at food baskets. Kids First continues working with local partners like Communities in Schools to expand the program each year. Bell said he is looking forward to identifying specific needs in this area, working with existing partners like Kohl’s and Sam’s Club and learning how Kids First can work with other schools and Pittsburg State University to continue to expand the program.

“Relationships are so important, and I love working with people like Mr. Taylor,” Bell said. “He didn’t tell me not to expand to the other three elementary schools here because they don’t work with his organization, he started helping me with ideas to get them involved so we can help as many kids as possible.”

Bell said Kids First will find a way to help families even if they can’t attend events. Families can reach out to the organization at their website www.kidsfirstinitiative.org. He said they can send gift cards, ties, scarves and other things items families may need.

The organization is also celebrating four years in Canada, two years in Haiti and their first year in Puerto Rico. Bell said the company wants to expand its reach as far as possible.

“We want to work ourselves out of a job ideally,” Bell said.

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.