Packing a punch against hungerLook into a child’s backpack and you might see a light snack among books, pencils and maybe even an iPod. Check out the backpacks given out at various Duluth locations on Thursdays this summer and you’ll find a complete and nutritious meal.
By: Sarah Alabsi, Duluth Budgeteer News
Look into a child’s backpack and you might see a light snack among books, pencils and maybe even an iPod.
Check out the backpacks given out at various Duluth locations on Thursdays this summer and you’ll find a complete and nutritious meal.
For the past three summers, volunteers from all around the area have come together to help fight childhood hunger, one backpack at a time.
“So many kids use the reduced lunches and then have nothing in the summer,” said Michele Naar-Obed, a staff member at the Damiano Center.
Last school year in Minnesota, more than 300,000 children relied on free or reduced lunches, according to Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. The nonprofit places that number in Duluth at more than 500 students.
The free and reduced lunches are a government-subsidized lunch plan that makes it possible for students to be given a warm meal Monday through Friday during the school year. Once summer vacation starts, those school meals aren’t available.
With the help of other local agencies, Second Harvest has been able to feed children from many parts of the Northland throughout the summer.
“Some of the kids even come with their families who are very happy to receive them,” said Naar-Obed. “They’re extremely appreciative.”
The process begins at Second Harvest’s facility at the Duluth Airpark where employees and volunteers pack meal kits into donated backpacks. These backpacks are then distributed to youth agencies around town. One of these programs is the Damiano Center Kids Café.
“They provide us with the food to give to families as a take home at the end of the week,” said Oscar Lopez, program coordinator at the Kids Café. He said Second Harvest has also helped the Kids Café obtain grant money for the partnership.
The Kids Café is also using the backpack program to help branch out to other activities with the children.
“We’re even getting a garden. The kids will be able to participate in growing their own food,” said Naar-Obed.
Some fresh vegetables from the garden will be put into the backpack kits, she said.
The backpack kits are also sent to the Boys and Girls club of Duluth.
“Every Friday, 60-80 backpacks are given to kids who depend on the meals,” said Todd Johnson, chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northland. “It’s a great program, and it’s badly needed.”
The summer Backpack Program is similar to one run by Second Harvest during the school year. Children are given weekend kits to ensure they have meals Saturday and Sunday. Duluth public elementary schools Laura MacArthur, Lincoln Park, Nettleton, Piedmont and Stowe are main participants of the program.
Recipients range from 5 to 18, though for the older children, there may be a stigma to receiving food donations. For them, there is more discreet distribution through school counselors.
Though summer is just starting, they’re also preparing for next school year.
“We’re working with Douglas County and Northern St. Louis County more to get ready for our fourth season coming,” said Shaye Moris, executive director of Second Harvest.
If you would like to volunteer with the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank or want to find out where the nearest backpack distribution center is, call (218) 727-5653 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.