Each lunch bag includes food to cover two breakfasts, two lunches and snacks. Food, such as fruit cups, cereal, individual Chef Boyardee meals, chicken salad and crackers, cookies and juice, is ordered through North Country Food Bank.
“Sometimes we have different things and sometimes we offer the same thing month after month, it just depends on what is available to us,” said program manager Reverend Megan Clapp, associate pastor of the Lutheran church. Immanuel. Additional items are also sometimes available from area fundraisers.
The program is confidential and only a small group of employees know the names of the students. Bags are distributed in student lockers during class or after school. In elementary school, Clapp and her daughter Lily are known as the “food fairies” who add the lunch bags on Thursday afternoons so that they magically appear for students on Fridays. Students can take meals home or leave them in their locker for meals or snacks during the school week.
“It’s a great way to involve her (Lily) in the service and help her understand how to treat people with respect and keep the information we know to ourselves,” Clapp said, “and she makes a great job with that.”
Backpacks for Kids program manager Reverend Megan Clapp, associate pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, works to recycle items while lunch bags are packed. Clapp and former Joyful Spirit United Methodist pastor, Rev. Amy VanValkenburg, moved the wrapper to the month when they started the program in 2019, which helped with a consistent volunteer base. A former group of volunteers ran the program for many years. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Diary
United Way fundraisers support the program as well as community donations, such as the Friends of Friends Fighting Hunger fundraiser. Auction items are available at FOF.givesmart.com until Saturday, January 22 at 9 p.m. Funds raised go directly to emergency food pantries in Otter Tail and Wadena counties and the eight Backpacks for Kids programs. A fundraiser in May 2021 extended the WDC program to middle/high school.
With about ten volunteers, 91 weekly lunch bags are packed for the whole month on the first Thursday of the month. Although that’s 364 bags for the month, volunteers agree that the hardest part of the job is opening the bags. The bags are organized into sections of 10 before being added onto carts and bins in a closet for weeks to come.
“It’s really wonderful to see this mountain of bags filling our wardrobe on the first Thursday of the month and then to see them being brought home week after week. It’s a bittersweet feeling, okay I wish we didn’t have to, but I’m glad we have something in place to support these families,” Clapp said. “I feel it’s an honor to lead this project and be a part of it. , because it serves so many of our community members.”
The bags are organized into sections of 10 before being added onto carts and bins in a closet for weeks to come. Volunteers pack 364 bags per month for the Wadena-Deer Creek Backpacks for Kids program beginning in January 2022. Rebecca Mitchell/Pioneer Journal
The community suffers from high food insecurity, with more than 5,400 children and people in Otter Tail and Wadena counties facing food insecurity daily, according to a United Way press release. Many students in the area are eligible for a free and reduced price lunch. And thanks to federal programming, meals during the 2021-22 school year are free. Students may transition off the roster for backpacking meals as families may move to a “better location financially” or decide not to receive the meals.
“It’s a really big sign for us that families need a boost and help,” Clapp said. “Children need fuel for their brains and bodies when they go to school, and this is one way for them to help bridge that gap, that they have something to take home the weekend to keep them fueled coming back to school.”
If you are interested in volunteering, you can contact Clapp at 218-631-2738 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers are also welcome to enter through the doors of the Primary School Principal’s office on the first Thursday of the month at 3:00 p.m. Donations can be sent to Mary Ann Hagen with any check payable to Backpacks for Kids. For more information on Friends of Friends Fighting Hunger, visit uwotw.org/friends-friends-fighting-hunger.