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Published August 25 2010

Food bank seeks donations for schoolchildren in need

A new program from the Great Plains Food Bank aims to make sure hundreds of school-aged children in the Fargo-Moorhead area won’t go hungry on days they aren’t in school.

Students participating in the Cass Clay BackPack Program will receive weekly bags of food – enough for six meals, plus snacks – that they can discreetly take home on weekends during the school year.

In the Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead school districts, more than 5,300 kids receive free school lunches, said Melissa Sobolik, director of member and client services for the Great Plains Food Bank.

“That’s 5,300 kids whose nutritional needs are being met at school, but we don’t know what’s happening to them when they’re at home or on the weekends or school vacations,” she said.

The food bank will provide the food and the volunteers to distribute the bags each week to seven schools in the area. Then teachers and counselors at each school determine the students who participate in the BackPack program.

The goal is to help 650 children during the 2010-11 school year, Sobolik said.

Schools offering the BackPack Program are West Fargo High School, Eastwood Elementary and L.E. Berger Elementary in West Fargo; Jefferson Elementary and Madison Elementary in Fargo; and Ellen Hopkins Elementary and Robert Asp Elementary in Moorhead.

Children suffering from hunger can face health problems and challenges in behavioral and emotional development, which can impair their ability to learn, Sobolik said.

“It’s really difficult for a student to learn in that kind of environment,” said Debra Laber, Fargo Public Schools’ director of nutrition services. “Our hope is by sending a backpack home with some of these students, it will not only provide nourishment physically, but it’ll provide some emotional support. They don’t have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from.”

A pilot BackPack program benefited 90 students in West Fargo and Fargo in the 2009-10 school year.

With more financial support, Sobolik said she hopes the program can be expanded to help more children and be more widely available across North Dakota and Clay County in Minnesota.

It costs $4.25 to fill a backpack, so to feed a child for an entire school year through the BackPack program, it costs $162, Sobolik said.

The Fargo Rotary Club donated $8,000 for this school year to support the Cass Clay BackPack program – enough to benefit nearly 50 children.

The BackPack Program is affiliated with the national Feeding America initiative to alleviate hunger. The program is also available in Grand Forks, Bismarck and Jamestown, N.D., and in Hawley, Minn., Sobolik said.

How to help

The Great Plains Food Bank is seeking monetary and food donations to help support the Cass Clay BackPack Program to alleviate hunger in school-aged children. Monetary donations can be made online at www.lssnd.org/GreatPlainsFoodBank, or by sending checks to Cass Clay BackPack Program, 1720 3rd Ave. N., Fargo, ND 58102

Food items needed:

- Pudding, fruit and applesauce cups

- Canned soup

- Microwavable meals

- Plastic jars of peanut butter

- Jelly or jam (non-glass containers)

- Pop-Tarts

- Cereal

- Assorted crackers

- Bags of peanuts or trail mix

- Boxes of macaroni and cheese

- Boxes of Rice-A-Roni or microwavable rice packets

- Granola or breakfast bars

- Juice boxes

- Hot cocoa in individual packets

Donations can be deposited at the Great Plains Food Bank, 1720 3rd Ave. N. in Fargo.

Rural Enrichment and Counseling Headquarters in Hawley is also seeking the same food donations for its BackPack Program. Donations can be dropped off at 421 5th St. in Hawley.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541