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"Every piece is in place" — Perham community comes together to keep Summer Feeding Program running

When the Perham Public Schools announced that they wouldn't have funding for the Summer Feeding Program for summer 2022, a group of local residents came together to change this.

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Boys and Girls Club Perham Unit Director Cori Brown and Calvary Lutheran Church Pastor Erin Bovendam were two of many area residents who worked together to keep the Summer Feeding Program running in town.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
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PERHAM — When the Perham area faces a problem, the community gathers together with a solution. Before summer 2022 started, the Perham Public Schools announced they wouldn't have the funding for the Summer Feeding Program, where community kids in need eat for free throughout the season without school.

The program was no longer available — that is, at least, before a group of locals came together to change its status.

When the closing of the program was first announced, Boys and Girls Club Perham Unit Director Cori Brown was terrified, as she put it, because the kids at the Boys and Girls Club also eat at the Summer Feeding Program throughout the summer. While Brown was working on a solution for the Boys and Girls Club, Calvary Lutheran Church Pastor Erin Bovendam also had the community kids in mind.

"Even though we didn't qualify for funding, the need is here," Bovendam explained why she finds the program so important. "One of the things that I think is so nice is that children can be together with other children and other adults… The social aspect of it is so important too."

She reached out to Brown, Perham Public Schools Food Service Director Krystal Boyd, and Business Manager Kristi Werner. Together, they figured out how much food they'd need, how much it would cost, and more. They decided to get a group together to keep the Summer Feeding Program alive: Besides Boyd, Brown and Bovendam, the group also included John Leikness, Susan Huebsch, Mary Nordbeck, Kristi Werner, Liz Swanson, Jenny Johnson and Mattea Steeke.

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Since staffing would already be available in June due to summer school, this group's first mission was to gather funds for general community food in June.

"There was a group that I knew of that had the funds available. I contacted them, and they were willing to give those funds toward it," Bovendam explained. "So, June was fairly easy. The funds were available right away, and the staffing was already there."

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The feeding program was hosted in Prairie Wind Middle School throughout the summer.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

With one massive task done, however, came another: on top of extra funding, they'd also need to find staffing for both July and August.

"We knew we'd have to use volunteers the whole time," Bovendam said. "When the group met, one of the key people who we talked to about doing volunteer stuff was like, 'There's no one that's going to be willing to do that every day. I think we need to hire somebody.'"

While the group was able to gather volunteers, this one member was right; there wasn't anyone who was able to come in and volunteer every single day. Luckily, John Leikness with the Bridge Community Pantry thought of someone immediately who'd make a great employee, given that she's a wonderful volunteer. She was hired to work for the summer program, and she'll be reimbursed for her work through the funding the group members were able to gather for July and August.

Fundraising in and of itself was another large task: Calvary Lutheran Church raised some funds. The Lions made a donation. The group applied for a grant and received it.

Through plenty of work and dedication, community kids in need were fed at Prairie Wind Middle School all throughout June and July, and they will continue to be fed through mid-August.

"(Seeing the Perham community come together) has been a total joy," Bovendam said. " I mean, it's just so energizing and exciting, and we're just super grateful. This is how it's gone. I mean, who can argue with making sure children have food?"

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Brown with the Boys and Girls Club added, "Every piece is in place because every person took a piece of it. It wasn't one person's job to do all this… I mean, it's just amazing how it all comes together."

Thanks to the efforts of this group and the general Perham community, the Summer Feeding Program will continue through mid-August. Kids 18 and younger eat for free, and meals are $5 for adults with exact change only. Food is served at Prairie Wind Middle School.

"There's just a lot of good people in Perham that are willing to give, whether it's their time or their money or even just sitting down at the table," Bovendam said. "Just start with it and try to figure out a solution instead of just saying, 'Well, it's not going to happen.' It seems so overwhelming, and at first I was like, 'I don't think there's any way we can do this every day' when we first started. But now it's all falling together. So that's good."

Brown and Bovendam are both incredibly grateful to the group of people who helped organize the program, those who donated, those who volunteered, and the school for allowing them to use their building. The middle school is familiar and comforting to children, Bovendam said. On top of that, it's within walking distance of the Boys and Girls Club, Brown added, so kids are able to easily play and have their food there.

"I'm just extremely grateful to the Perham community and all the people that have been involved," Brown concluded. "I'm just so grateful for all of them. So I'm going to say, 'thank you.'"

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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