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November 17, 2011 05:30 PM

Backpack Program Aided By $100K Donation

Sioux Falls, SD


Nearly 3,000 students are receiving the sack of food every Friday to tide them over until they are able to get school lunch on Monday, thanks to Feeding South Dakota’s Backpack Program.

This Fall, for the first time ever, Backpack Program organizers were forced to scale back but thanks to a $100,000 donation from Wal-Mart, the cuts weren't as deep as they could have been.

Every Friday, more than 100 students at Whittier Middle School bring home sacks of food from the Backpack Program. The demand is growing; an indication hunger in South Dakota is a constant problem.

"I am probably not as surprised as most people because I live it. I see kids that I know come from limited means," Whittier Middle School Principal JoJean Callison said.

Students are hoping to ease hunger pains for more than just themselves, Callison said.

"Sometimes kids come back and want to know if there are any extras, if they can take one home for a little brother or sister who may not be school age. So they are not always thinking about me, me, me, often it is what can I do for my family," Callison said.

Thursday, Wal-Mart announced it's helping fill that need with a $100,000 donation. Half of the money is benefiting the Backpack Programs in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, both of which have been scaling back.

"Rather than extend ourselves we made the tough decision to cut back on a number of backpacks we were going to distribute," Feeding South Dakota's Matt Gassen said.

The money is already budgeted in for this year. Had the donation not been in place, even more students would have been cut from the program at the beginning of the school year.

"That really motivates all of us to help make a difference," Wal-Mart Market Manager Steve Hanselman said.

Wal-Mart employees voted for the program to receive the money, and Thursday they helped fill the sacks that will be placed in backpacks tomorrow.

And for Principal Callison, she said the gift is critical to many of her students.

"We want all of our students to come to school ready to learn," Callison said. "A part of that means they are well nourished and they know somebody cares about them."

The other half of the donation to Feeding South Dakota will be used to secure and transport donated food to those who need it across the state.
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