What happens when kids go home for the weekend and face empty cupboards? During this time of economic need in our country, it’s no surprise that many families are struggling to put food on the table. Through generous donations from the community, the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry, the School District of Rhinelander, and Oneida County UW-Extension have been able to partner and offer the “Weekend Food for Kids Program.”
This program sets out to make sure that many young children in Rhinelander do not go without food over the weekend when school breakfasts and lunches are not available to them.
Recently a donation was made by Saint Augustine’s Church in Rhinelander in an effort to make sure this program continues. For the past three years, this program has served about 450 children, ages six months to 18 years. These families, who have confidentially requested help, received a backpack of food for each child on Friday. Students brought back the empty backpacks on the following Monday and the cycle continued.
Surveys were sent home at the end of the school year to determine the success of the program. Results indicated that families not only appreciated the program, but it helped them bridge the gap of not having enough food in their homes. A parent indicated on the survey, “Programs like this help so much in hard times.”
These backpacks reached families with children in Pelican, Crescent, Central and NCES elementary schools. Based on the data, many of those backpacks reached families with older children at James Williams Middle School and the high school.
Several players combine to make this program a success. First, the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry, headed by Jane Motowski, receives all donations of food and money and handles the ordering of weekly food. Healthy food choices are selected by Kari Lazers, Wisconsin Nutrition Education Coordinator for Oneida County UW-Extension. Kari, along with Gail Fitzgerald, coordinate with a dedicated team of volunteers every week to sort and organize food, pack the backpacks and deliver the bags to the schools and back. Once the full backpacks are gathered at the schools, school counselors at each of the schools deliver each numbered backpack to the correlating students on Fridays. The students are responsible for returning the empty backpack on the following Monday to the main office or the guidance offices. Families also know that if they don’t return the empty backpack during that week, they won’t receive a full bag the following Friday.
This program would not exist without the dedication of its volunteers. They dedicate their time and resources to ensure this program’s success.
“We know this program is helping many families and we hope to continue in the future,” Kari Lazers said.
For anyone who would like to help, the Rhinelander Food Pantry is always accepting donations of food, cash and checks.
For more information regarding the Weekend Food for Kids Program, call Jane Motowski at 715-369-7237.