According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 13.9 million children in the United States live in households that suffer from hunger or live on the edge of hunger.
Sadly, right here at home in Otter Tail County, an average of 1,798 children live in poverty stricken households and likely suffer from periods of, or constant hunger. Hunger and "food insecurity" are far too widespread in our wealthy society. Hunger in the United States and in Otter Tail County is a problem that can be cured, and there are efforts underway in the county to help.
Luckily for families living in Otter Tail County, the "it's time for us to help" attitude is exactly the one that communities all throughout the county have adopted. Aside from the fact that feeding hungry children is simply the right thing to do, it is also a fact that when kids don't get enough to eat, it shows in many areas including their schoolwork.
Therefore communities and school districts throughout the county are combining efforts to ensure that kids have the nutritious food they need to keep them healthy and feeling good every day - not just on school days.
Schools do a great job of ensuring that students get healthy meals during the school day. However, because children aren't in school on the weekends, it can mean that some students are suffering through the weekends and extended school breaks without enough nutritious foods to get them by until their next school breakfast, snack and lunch. That's why Otter Tail County communities have decided to address childhood hunger by implementing the "Backpack for Hunger" program throughout the county.
Based on a similar model currently operating in the communities of Perham, Wadena and Detroit Lakes, the "Backpack for Hunger" program will provide nutritious and easy-to-prepare food for children likely at-risk of hunger which they can take home and consume on the weekends and school vacations when other resources are not available.
Pre-made food packages will be distributed anonymously and discreetly within the school setting. All food sent home will be child-friendly, nonperishable, easily consumed, and will be purchased from North Country Food Bank out of Crookston, Minnesota.
It is estimated that at least 238 students in Otter Tail County go hungry on weekends when they are not in school.
Teachers and counselors at each of the local elementary schools will discretely identify these children. In order to ensure anonymity, only the locker numbers for these students will then be shared with community volunteers who will come into the schools on Friday afternoons and place the food packages in student's backpacks.
Weekend packages will consist of at least enough food for two meals, with additional food supplies provided for extended school breaks.
The Backpack for Hunger program will be organized and carried out by local churches and other community organizations. It will rely heavily on volunteers who are interested in helping. It will also require donations and funding contributions to help purchase the food supplies needed. It is estimated that the cost to support one student for an entire school year is about $150 annually, $16 per month or $4 per week.
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming involved as a volunteer or donating to the Backpack for Hunger program in your community, please contact Jane Patrick, Otter Tail Family Services Collaborative, at 218-736-3458 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.