Nearly 2,500 children in the Sioux Falls School District will have enough to eat this weekend, thanks to the backpack meals program. Schools identify students who are at risk of going hungry, and give them meals and snacks to last them until school begins again on Monday.
These bags of food sit outside classrooms at Laura Wilder Elementary, waiting to be picked up at the end of the day. More than 100 students at this school alone receive the so-called backpack meals every Friday.
"There has been a real shift in diversity and socioeconomic status in our school. We know there are more children receiving free and reduced lunch," said Principal Linda Haugan.
But students don't have to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches in order to get the bags of food; they’re referred by teachers. The bags include fruit, crackers, granola bars, and a canned meal item like Spaghetti-O's.
Haugan says families are stretched thin these days, and poor nutrition can really hurt childrens' ability to learn.
"We know if a child comes to school and if they're hungry, they won't be able to focus, to concentrate on their school work," said Haugan.
Even though the need has grown at Laura Wilder, it's also grown across the board at all schools, so there are fewer packs to give out to each school.
In fact, the program doesn't provide for every child who needs it. Here, around 50 kids are on a waiting list; district wide, that number is 210. Haugan says they're doing the best they can, and providing for as many students as possible.
"You do, you have a passion and compassion we all feel. It's another way we can reach out and serve our children," said Haugan.
The program is a partnership between the Sioux Falls School District and the Community Food Banks of South Dakota
. For $135, you can make sure a child has weekend meals for the entire school year. To donate, contact Jennifer Stensaas at the Community Food Banks of South Dakota at firstname.lastname@example.org
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