A recent study found nearly one in five South Dakota children doesn't get enough food on a daily basis. During the school year, many of those children receive free or reduced lunches. Yet, that's only Monday through Friday.
Feeding South Dakota's BackPack Program ensures that children have something to eat on the weekends, too. Since the BackPack program started in 2007, the need for its help has grown each and every year.
When the BackPack program first began, Feeding South Dakota sent home food with 200 students. Today that number is in the thousands.
"Tonight, we're going to be packing 3,388 bags, so that's 200 more than where we started last September," BackPack Program Coordinator Allison Struck said.
In a joint effort with the Sioux Falls School District and other rural schools in the area, organizers are putting those thousands of bags filled with food to good use. There's also a program in Rapid City.
"The school staff, they distribute them to the students on Thursday and Friday afternoons. And the kids take that food home with them to tide them over until they're back in school on Monday," Struck said.
The program has clearly grown, and each year organizers must sit down and make sure they have enough resources to meet the needs as each new school year begins.
"I knew already early last year that there were a few rural schools that were looking to join our program, and we've tried to plan accordingly," Struck said.
Feeding South Dakota can only do so much of the work. The organization buys the food for students, puts the bags together and sends them to the schools. From there, it is the work of the schools that make the difference.
"Having this partnership with the school district and working with them to distribute these bags in a safe environment. We've figured a way to do it efficiently and to reduce the stigma that maybe goes along with taking any kind of assistance," Struck said.
As long as the children need the food, Feeding South Dakota will do what it can to help.
"In a perfect world, we wouldn't need the BackPack program, but that's not the reality," Struck said.
The program is one of the many ways Feeding South Dakota is working to close the hunger gap. From school children to senior citizens, the organization helps people of all ages in every county in the state.