The BackPack Program is now a staple program to ensure children in the Sioux Empire have easy access to nutritous meals over the weekend. Did you know that BackPack Program started in 2007, providing 100 students at both Hawthorne Elementary and Axtell Middle Schools with food for the weekend? Through funding from Sioux Empire United Way, the program has now grown to serve more than 3,000 students across Baltic, Brandon, Dell Rapids, Harrisburg, Hartford, Humboldt, Lennox, Montrose, Sioux Falls, Tea, and Tri-Valley schools.
In 2016, over 10,000 families qualified for free and reduced school meals. Feeding America's "Hunger in America" study shows that 11.6% of Minnehaha County experiences food insecurity. Children right here in our community are struggling with issues they shouldn’t have to worry about at the age of 6 or 7. There are many children who are waiting for the lunch bell to ring to eat for the first time in up to 24 hours.
Each week, volunteers bag up items taht may include: shelf-stable white or chocolate milk, cereal, canned vegetables or fruit, mac and cheese, gold fish and beef jerky. Each week the items rotate to avoid repetitive menus and give kids the nutrition they may be missing. The food is packaged up in plastic bags that are easy for the recipients to slip into their backpacks. Each school determines students in need of a food package and handle distribution on Fridays.
Parents have expressed their gratitude for the program:
"The BackPack food helps us when we are very low on food or have no food. There are times when we have to buy cheap, unhealthy foods. The BackPack food items are a lot healthier and that makes me feel good. Thank you!"
"Single family home with a 10 year old and 9 year old. I've been sick the past couple of months, and the BackPack program has helped immensely. Thank you!"
A gift to Sioux Empire United Way of less than $5 provides one package of food to a child.