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Winnebago packs to give students weekend snacks

By Staff | Feb 28, 2011

Josh Blaire (left) and Krista Dulac bag up the food so it’s ready to deliver to the school.

Although school lunch programs keep kids nourished on weekdays, not all of those students are guaranteed to have nutritious food available to them on the weekends.

“The BackPack Program,” which provides weekend meals to children every Friday before they head home, was started when one school nurse noticed many hungry students coming to her with stomachaches and dizziness.

The program has been in place across the nation for more than 10 years, but the idea just recently came to Winnebago when the board members of the First Presbyterian Church were looking for community needs that had not yet been met.

“We got talking about elderly needs and young children’s needs,” Rev. Michael Roys explains.

Focusing more on the children’s needs, one board member mentioned having heard about The BackPack Program being done in the Twin Cities and Mankato, so Winnebago decided to join in, and started the first weekend in February.

The program is a collaboration among six churches — First Presbyterian, St. Mary’s Catholic, First Baptist, United Methodist and Lutheran Church of Our Savior, all of Winnebago, and Community Covenant Church of Huntley — which are all located in areas that the Winnebago Food Shelf serves. Although they are not on the food shelf board, Delavan churches are also active in supporting and donating to it.

For start-up funding, the Winnebago Food Shelf took $500 out of its budget and set it aside to use for the program. The Winnebago American Legion also made a large contribution, providing $1,000. With other smaller donations from individuals, First Presbyterian Church board member Josh Blaire says the program should already have enough money to get through the rest of this year.

At this point, the program helps out 21 students in the Winnebago Elementary School, and cost per child per weekend is about $3.50.

Of course, the estimated cost for one year will increase if the number of kids increases. It can also get more expensive if holiday breaks, such as Christmas vacation, become included in the program.

In other towns, such as Mankato — which helps more than 900 kids — Christmas break is included, and the Winnebago BackPack Program hopes it will also be able to provide over the holidays.

Volunteers for the Winnebago BackPack Program, Josh Blaire (left) and Kathy Blaire organize piles of different foods for some Winnebago Elementary School children to take home over the weekend.

“We have high goals,” First Presbyterian Church member Kathy Blaire says.

The program aims to provide the same amount of food that is available to elementary school students during the week — a breakfast, lunch and snack for each day, including two dairy products and two fruits.

“As of right now there are two menus, so there’s a rotation,” Josh Blaire explains.

“We’re also making sure the food we’re giving them is fairly nutritious,” Roys adds.

The menus are made up of not only healthy choices, but kid-friendly ones, featuring foods such as pudding cups, juice boxes, applesauce, Easy Mac and single-serving cereal boxes.

“If I was a kid, I’d be excited to get this,” First Presbyterian Church member Krista Dulac says, holding up a bag she just packed.

Each Friday, volunteers compile bags that get delivered to Winnebago Elementary School. The school’s social worker chooses which children are eligible to be in the program, so the volunteers and church members actually have no idea who they’re helping.

While some of the food for the program has been donated by different individuals, a lot of it is purchased — in bulk.

“In terms of cost and ease, we’ve been getting everything from Sam’s Club in Mankato,” Josh Blaire says.

Driving more than 30 minutes away may not sound like the easiest solution, but with the option of setting up grocery orders online in advance, time actually spent in the store is as little as five minutes.

In the future, Josh Blaire says he would like to approach local grocery stores to see if they can start purchasing the food within the community rather than going to Mankato.

Another option would be to order through the school.

“We’ve got lots of ideas,” Kathy Blaire says.

There is also interest in developing a sister program with Blue Earth one day, but for now they are focused on getting established in Winnebago.

“We just needed to start small so we didn’t make mistakes,” Dulac says.