BY Kristina Hein, Marketing Director, United Way of Cass-Clay
PHOTOS COURTESY OF United Way of Cass-Clay
BY Kristina Hein, Marketing Director, United Way of Cass-Clay
When schools let out for the summer, most kids look forward to summer activities and days spent playing in the sun, but schools letting out for the summer can also spell trouble for many poor and hungry children who no longer can get school lunches and breakfasts. During the school year, kids typically receive at least one-third of the nutrients they consume each day from school lunch. Each year, for reasons beyond their control, more than 33,000 kids across North Dakota rely on the free and reduced-cost school lunch program to meet their nutritional needs. But what are these children to do when school is no longer in session and this critical food resource is no longer available to them?
United Way of Cass-Clay, local donors, and the Great Plains Food Bank have stepped up to ensure our local kids have enough to eat during the summer time. United Way of Cass-Clay helps families overcome these challenges by growing and supporting programs that provide nutritious meals to children in our community.
Because of United Way investors and collaborations, during the school year last year, 2,226 local students were provided with backpacks of food on Friday afternoons so they weren’t hungry on the weekends.
One of United Way’s Bold Community Goals is to reduce hunger and homelessness in our community. Last year in 2016, United Way of Cass-Clay invested more than $1 million in their Bold Goal to reduce hunger and homelessness in our community and in 2017, United Way plans to invest nearly $1.1 million. As a result, more than 75,950 meals were served to local men, women and children in need last year.
When a child is fed, they are equipped to play, learn, grow and be prepared for a future filled with opportunity and success. Hunger among children can have lifelong and very costly consequences. Hungry children suffer physical, emotional and developmental impairment. They are sick and hospitalized more often. Hungry children don’t learn as well at school, which limits their potential and productivity as adults. Adults who experienced hunger as children are often not as well prepared mentally, emotionally, physically or socially to succeed in their jobs and in today’s work environment. In some ways, hunger becomes a workforce development issue, which we all know is an issue facing our local community right now.
So what is United Way and our community as a whole doing to help make sure hunger doesn’t become a summertime staple for kids and people in our community?
BY THE NUMBERS
During the school year last year, more than 33,000 children across North Dakota qualify for and greatly rely on the federal free and reduced lunch program to meet their daily nutritional needs.
One in nine people in the Cass-Clay community seeks food assistance each year. 36 percent of them are children and 11 percent are senior citizens.
5,590 children go hungry in Cass and Clay counties.
Last year, an average of 2,226 children per week were given a total of 3,404 backpacks of food so they weren’t hungry on the weekends during the summer.
One in nine local children (ages 0-17) in Cass and Clay Counties live in poverty. That’s 5,500 kids.
One in nine local people (in Cass and Clay Counties) live in poverty. That’s 26,000 local people (which could fill the SCHEELS Arena four times). Poverty is defined as a family of four living on less than $24,600 per year.
Thanks to partnerships with United Way, local kids aren’t going hungry during the summer because of programs like Youth Summer Meals, which operates every day at Village West Park in Fargo.
Four Ways Our Community Is Helping Make Sure Kids Aren’t Hungry in the Summer
1. Youth Summer Meals Program
Ever go to a movie at Marcus Century Cinema or shop at West Acres Shopping Center? Did you know that just one mile away is a park that serves meals to hungry kids in the summer? The Youth Summer Meals Program serves up a meal every day in the summer, Monday through Friday at Village West Park in Fargo–less than a mile from the movie theater. On average, 15 to 30 local kids show up at this park every day at noon to get a hot meal, oftentimes the only hot meal they will eat that day.
“While we are really happy to see 30 kids come and enjoy a meal, at the same time you wish that these kids didn’t have to come and utilize this program and look forward to this meal. I also think if we are serving this many kids on a daily basis, how many more are out there going hungry during the summer?” said Jenae Meske, Program Coordinator for the Great Plains Food Bank.
2. Pop Up Farmers Market
On Mondays, when kids come to eat lunch, there is also a “Pop Up Farmers Market” where they can choose fresh produce to add to their lunch and also bring home to share with their family. During the second Monday in July, they distributed 50 to 60 pounds of produce. The kids that came for lunch enjoyed mini cucumbers, apples, peaches, pears and mini bell peppers. For many of the kids that came to have lunch, this was a chance to try a new, nutritious food. “For families struggling to make ends meet, buying produce just isn’t an option. It’s something we take for granted,” said Jenae Meske, Program Coordinator for Great Plains Food Bank.
On Mondays, there is a new “Pop Up Farmers Market” where children in need can not only come and have a meal, but choose fresh produce to eat and take home to share with their family.
3. Backpack Program
Imagine leaving school on a Friday afternoon for the weekend knowing that the next time you’ll have a meal is the following Monday during lunch at school. For many kids in our local community, this is reality. Now, imagine the teacher in front of a classroom on Monday morning knowing that there are children in the room who haven’t had a meal since Friday at lunch. Thanks to support from the community, last year, 2,226 local students were provided with backpacks of food on Friday afternoons so that they weren’t hungry over the weekend when school lunches weren’t available. The backpacks of food don’t just impact the students who might otherwise go hungry. Many of the students receiving the backpacks report that they share the food with their siblings and 82 percent of teachers reported that their students were ready to learn and participate on Monday mornings. Currently, it costs just $5 to fill a backpack with milk, juice, snacks and food for three meals. To sponsor a child for an entire year, it costs just $190.
4. Hot Meals
The Salvation Army, New Life Center and Churches United also serve a hot meal during the noon hour in our community. Last summer, the United Way team had the opportunity to meet “Andrew” and his three children who were having lunch at Churches United. Andrew explained that they stayed briefly at the homeless shelter, but now that they have transitioned to their own apartment. As a single dad, he struggles to buy enough groceries for his growing elementary school kids so he comes back to the shelter a couple of days a week to eat lunch there just to make sure his family is fed during the summer when school lunches aren’t an option.
Three Ways You Can Help
1. Lunch is served…with a smile! Volunteer to help serve kids a hot meal in the summer.
There is always a need for volunteers to help prep and serve the summer meals to children that come to the Youth Summer Meals site. Lunch is served every day Monday through Friday at noon at Village West Park located at 4415 9th Ave. Circle S, Fargo. If you’re interested in volunteering, contact email@example.com.
2. Teach compassion/philanthropy to the next generation. Volunteer as a family to help put together food baskets for people in need.
Monday through Friday from 10- 11:30 a.m. and from 1:30-3:30 p.m. the Emergency Food Pantry is open for people in need to come and get a food basket and they are always in need of volunteers to help the people that come to the food pantry fill their food basket. Kids are welcome to volunteer, too. “This is great opportunity for parents to bring their kids and volunteer as a family because they get to greet and help the people that are coming through the doors of our food pantry,” said Erin Foltz, Warehouse Supervisor for the Emergency Food Pantry in Fargo. To volunteer, email contact@ emergencyfoodpantry.com.
3. Tomatoes, zucchini and onions… oh my! Donate your produce.
Did you know that you can donate your garden produce to local food pantries? The Emergency Food Pantry accepts donations of garden produce and is located near Downtown Fargo at 1101 4th Ave. N. Donations of produce can be dropped off 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, email contact@ emergencyfoodpantry.com or call 701-237-9337.
“The people we serve always get excited about tomatoes. They love them and are so thankful! We also love to get donations of zucchini, onion and any fresh produce. Most of the clients we serve resort to processed food on a regular basis because it is low-cost, so they are so grateful when they see healthy fresh produce,” said Erin Foltz, Warehouse Supervisor for the Emergency Food Pantry in Fargo.