MANKATO, MN (June 16, 2015) – Feeding Our Communities Partners (FOCP) will bring the BackPack Food Program to Maple River East (Good Thunder) and West (Minnesota Lake) elementary schools at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year.
“We see a need for this for our children at both sites, “said Deanne Rengstorf, principal of Maple River West Elementary School, “and feel this will be a great benefit to our families that struggle to make ends meet. We both [Maple River East and West elementary schools] hover around 40% Free and Reduced Lunch so we know that it will be well received and the needs of our children will be met.”
The BackPack Food Program is an initiative of FOCP and currently provides a weekend’s worth of well-balanced, easy-to-prepare meals and snacks to over 750 students in all eleven Mankato area elementary schools during the school year. Volunteers assemble zip top bags with breakfast, lunch and snacks and then deliver the food packs to schools. Teachers discreetly distribute the food packs to students on Fridays. Food packs and boxes are also provided for extended school breaks such as Winter Break and Spring Break.
“This expansion has been our intention since the very beginning,” said Melinda Wedzina, executive director of FOCP. “We’ve always known that the needs of communities outside Mankato are just as great, so we are eager to bring the program to Maple River.”
The BackPack Food Program has been strategically adding new schools within Mankato ISD77 to its roster since March 2010, when it was first rolled out to 43 students at Franklin Elementary School. From there, new schools were added at a steady pace. After adding Maple River elementary schools in September 2015, a final expansion will bring the program to Lake Crystal and Saint Clair elementary schools in January 2016. “At that point,” said Wedzina, “we will be at all 15 Blue Earth County elementary schools with a projection of approximately 900 students.”
“We are committed to the students at these schools,” said Kristin Weeks Duncanson, chair of the FOCP Board of Directors, “and vow that once we’ve added a school to our program, we are there to stay. In order to keep our promise, we implement the program slowly and deliberately to make sure that we are able to maintain it.”
FOCP relies on funding from grants and donors in the community to keep operations running. “Without the generosity of local companies and individuals,” said Wedzina, “we would not be at this stage of implementation today. It is our mission to serve the needs of hungry children in Blue Earth County and North Mankato. It is the local community that makes it happen.”
To prepare the community of Maple River for the BackPack Food Program’s presence in the fall, all K-5 Maple River elementary students were sent home with information about the program in their school folders in May.
“We have reached out to the community with opportunities to get involved,” said Nicole Swanson, BackPack Food Program manager. “There are opportunities for volunteers to transport the food packs from our BackPack office in North Mankato to the Maple River schools on a weekly basis. We also welcome community members to sign up for volunteer packing sessions that will start again in August.”
All Mankato ISD77 and Maple River elementary school families can look for information at their child’s schools at the beginning of the school year and at the BackPack Food Program’s website.
To learn more about how you can get involved with the BackPack Food Program, visit www.BackPackFoodProgram.org.
See KEYC coverage of this story here: http://www.keyc.com/story/29337421/backpack-food-program-close-to-reaching-goal