Backpacks for Kids program provides weekend meals for students
United Way fundraisers support the program along with community donations, such as the Friends of Friends Fighting Hunger fundraiser. Auction items are available at FOF.givesmart.com and are open online through Saturday, Jan. 22 at 9 p.m.
WADENA — Students are fueled with needed food over the weekend through the Backpacks for Kids program at Wadena-Deer Creek elementary and middle/high schools.
Each meal bag includes food items to cover two breakfasts, two lunches and snacks. The food, like fruit cups, cereal, Chef Boyardee individual meals, chicken salad and crackers, cookies and juice, is ordered through North Country Food Bank .
“Sometimes we have different things and sometimes we offer the same thing month after month, it just depends on what’s available to us,” said program leader Rev. Megan Clapp, associate pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church. Additional items are also occasionally available from area fundraisers.
The program is confidential with only a small group of staff knowing the student names. The bags are distributed in student lockers during class or after school. At the elementary school, Clapp and her daughter Lily are known as the “food fairies” who add the meal bags on Thursday afternoons for them to magically appear for students on Fridays. Students can take the meals home or leave them in their lockers for meals or snacks during the school week.
“It’s a great way to get her (Lily) involved in service and help her understand treating people with respect and keeping information we know to ourselves,” Clapp said, “and she does a great job with that.”
United Way fundraisers support the program along with community donations, such as the Friends of Friends Fighting Hunger fundraiser. Auction items are available at FOF.givesmart.com through Saturday, Jan. 22 at 9 p.m. The funds raised go directly to emergency food pantries in Otter Tail and Wadena counties and the eight Backpacks for Kids programs. A fundraiser in May 2021 expanded the WDC program to the middle/high school.
With about 10 volunteers, 91 weekly meal bags are packed for the entire month on the first Thursday of the month. While that’s 364 bags for the month, volunteers agree the hardest part of the job is opening the bags. The bags are organized into sections of 10 before being added on carts and bins in a closet for the upcoming weeks.
“It’s really wonderful to watch that mountain of bags fill up our closet on that first Thursday of the month and then watch them get taken home week after week. It’s a bittersweet feeling, right, I wish we didn’t have to do it but I’m glad we have something in place to support those families,” Clapp said. “I find it an honor to be leading this project, and participating in it because it does serve so many of our community members.”
The community has high food insecurity, including over 5,400 children and individuals in Otter Tail and Wadena counties facing food insecurity daily, according to a United Way news release. Many students in the area qualify for free and reduced lunch. And through federal programming, meals during the 2021-22 school year are free. Students can transition off the list for backpack meals as families are able to move to a “better spot financially” or decide to not receive the meals.
“That is a really big sign for us that families are in need of a boost and some help,” Clapp said. “Kids need fuel for their brains and their bodies when they’re going to school, and this is a way that we can help bridge that gap for them, that they have something to take home over the weekend to keep them fueled up to come back to school.”
United Way community grant application opens to non-profits in Otter Tail, Wadena counties
If you’re interested in volunteering, you can contact Clapp at 218-631-2738 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers are also welcome to enter through the principal’s office doors at the elementary school on the first Thursday of the month at 3 p.m. Donations can be sent to Mary Ann Hagen with any checks made out to Backpacks for Kids. For more information on the Friends of Friends Fighting Hunger, visit uwotw.org/friends-friends-fighting-hunger .