Food for the weekends

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Sixth through 12th graders benefit from BackPack Program

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Thanks to volunteers from the churches in the McGregor Ecumenical Council, dozens of MFL MarMac students in junior kindergarten through fifth grade have had access to snack packs, gallon Ziploc bags filled with food that tide them over during weekends away from the school’s regularly-provided meals.

This fall, the school district partnered with the Northeast Iowa Food Bank to begin offering the BackPack Program, assuring students in sixth through 12th grades can now receive similar help.

Funding comes from a federal grant, said Elise Martins, special education teacher at the high school, who helps facilitate the program at MFL MarMac. 

“I heard about it on a fluke,” noted Martins. 

Kari Harbaugh, from the Family Resource Center in Guttenberg, was visiting the school to discuss how students might benefit from the center’s services. She happened to mention the BackPack program.

Although she feared it was too late to participate, Martins applied anyway. MFL MarMac was approved.

She hopes the program will ease the mind of both students and parents.

“This area is not an extremely wealthy area. Quite a few students are eligible for free or reduced lunches,” she commented. “It’s important kids not go to bed hungry. They should be worrying about school work, sporting events and friends, not where their next meal is coming from. I hope this will alleviate the worries families and students have.”

Martins places the school’s food order online every other Monday. On the opposite Mondays, the food bank delivers the already-assembled packs of food.

The food is then discreetly placed in participating students’ lockers each Friday afternoon, for consumption on the weekends. 

The BackPacks contain kid-friendly, non-perishable food items, including cereal, crackers, peanut butter, juice, fruit cups, soup, vegetables, granola bars and pop-top meals like Easy Mac and Chef Boyardee.

“We have to look at the fact that many students are preparing food for themselves or feeding themselves,” Martins said. “They’re easy and ready-to-go things to eat that need minimal preparation. There’s nothing that needs a stove top or oven.”

To date, said Martins, 20 students participate in the program. Letters were sent home earlier this year welcoming people to sign up. Forms were also available at parent/teacher conferences and in the latest district newsletter.

Either parents or students can sign up, Martins said. The school also has the authority to offer BackPacks if staff feel it’s needed.

“We don’t want to offend anyone. People have pride,” she said, “but, so far, we’ve had no complaints.”

The BackPack Program will run through the rest of the school year, and students can sign up any time. Names are kept confidential, said Martins. Only she, the guidance counselor and administrators know who’s on the list.

“I wish more people would take advantage of it,” she remarked. “I thought there would be more. But I know it’s hard for someone to reach out and say, ‘Hey, I need some help with this right now.’”

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