HARTFORD, S.D. (KELO) – A well-balanced meal is an important part of anyone’s day, especially for students in the classroom. That’s why one program is making sure kids have a meal each day.

It’s lunchtime at the West Central School District.

Nachos, fresh fruits and veggies make up the menu.

The entire district is made up of around 1,450 kids. That adds up to a lot of meals.

“Breakfast we do about 225 a day and lunch we are at about 1,000, so we are at about a 75% participating level,” child nutrition director, Tanya Parsons said.

While you might not think about it, some families may struggle to pay for those meals.

“Breakfast is $1.70, and that’s district wide, all the kids pay that, for our lunches, the little kids pay $2.90, the bigger kids pay $3.10 and the high school kids are $3.25,” Parsons said.

That’s where Project 22 comes into action.

“Project 22 was originally started by Hannah Droge and Braden Peters back in 2017, I started to get involved with the project in 2019, my freshman year,” Project 22 ambassador, Elizabeth Johnson said. “They started the program to help families who do not qualify for free and reduced lunch, but also can not afford that regular priced lunch every day, so Project 22 helps those families that are in that catch 22.”

But that’s not all the program supports.

“Recently we’ve also started to help families who have families in the elementary schools who can’t afford a snack everyday, free and reduced lunch does not cover the snacks so Project 22 makes sure those students are receiving a snack everyday,” Johnson said.

Elizabeth Johnson is a senior at West Central and also a Project 22 ambassador.

In her role, she helps raise awareness and funding for the program.

She credits businesses and other people in the community for success.

“Recently we’ve partnered with Big J’s out of Humboldt, they’ve donated a burger for every dollar they’ve sold, if you’ve seen Dairy Queen, they do 25 cents in the first two weeks, 25 cents of every blizzard sold goes back to Project 22, we’ve also done bingo at Buffalo Ridge Brewing, where we raised $1,207 there, and many other local businesses have donated money,” Johnson said.

“It’s a testament to our communities, Wall Lake, Ellis, Humboldt, and Hartford, and their giving spirit, and their desire to assist and help and uphold the students in our district,” superintendent, Daniel Hoey said.

Money raised for the program is put into a special account to help families.

“There are still guidelines, they still have to fill out a free and reduced app so we are able to help them, but yes it comes into an account, we have a Project 22 account and give it to the kids that do need the extra,” Parsons said.

School officials say Project 22 has been even more vital this year, as the national free meal program ended and with recent inflation.

“They’re having a hard time finding the budget, so Project 22 has helped with that need for parents, there are some parents that have never paid for a meal because they had a kindergartener and first grader for the first two years, so just try to figure it, make sure all our kids get fed,” Parsons said.

And having that meal to eat, helps students of all ages be successful inside and outside the classroom.

“No child should go hungry, as a classroom teacher many years ago, my best accounting lesson would fall by the wayside if a child is hungry, we don’t want that to be something that controls the quality of a child’s day is that they’re hungry, we love to have all children fed and this is one of those things that bridges the gap,” Hoey said.

If you’re interested in making a donation to Project 22, you can call the school district at 605-528-3217 or mail it to the school. A memo line of the check needs to include Project 22.