Missouri Senator Roy Blunt (R) heard surprising details about Columbia’s poverty rate, during a Tuesday visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Columbia.

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt (right), his wife Abigail, State Senator-Elect Caleb Rowden and State Rep. Chuck Basye watch a video at the Boys and Girls Club of Columbia on December 27, 2016

Senator Blunt and his wife Abigail toured the North 7th Street facility in Columbia, and spoke to staff members, board members, volunteers and youth members. Blunt watched a video, which notes that 50 percent of Columbia Public School (CPS) students are on free and reduced lunch. The video also highlights Columbia’s poverty statistics.

“I think most people in Columbia, if you said, you know, 50 percent of the kids in school are on the free and reduced lunch program, and that’s one of the highest in the state, that would be a big surprise to a lot of people,” Blunt told reporters.

Blunt says he’ll look for ways to find more job opportunities for families, including single-parent families.

CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark tells Missourinet at least 9,000 district students are on free and reduced lunch. Baumstark notes the number is higher, because Columbia high school students don’t complete the applications.

Blunt, who defeated Jason Kander (D) in November, says there is too much division in the country between people who have “a lot” and “people that don’t have the kind of opportunities you’d want to have.” Blunt says we need to be aware of that.

“One of the reasons at the end of the year every year I try to do several stops like this is just as an excuse for you and I to be talking about what do these kind of community service organizations provide, and why do you need them in places that, you know, you see lots of affluence, at the same time if you look very closely, you see lots of people still struggling,” says Blunt.

Blunt emphasized the importance of nutrition and the buddy pack program during his tour, along with mental health. Blunt says “we’re about 50 years behind”, in the mental health field.

Boys and Girls Club of Columbia Executive Director Valerie Livingston also told Blunt about shootings and other violent crime in Columbia and Boone County, and their impacts on children.

Blunt was joined during Tuesday’s tour by State Senator-Elect Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) and State Rep. Chuck Basye (R-Rocheport).

The Boys and Girls Club of Columbia has raised $2.5 million for an expansion project. Officials tell Blunt that construction is set to begin in January.

Columbia City Councilman Clyde Ruffin says children are encouraged and empowered at the Boys and Girls Club.