The Northlands Rescue Mission is launching a “Back the Pack” campaign to expand the Backpack program, which provides weekend meals to eligible children for a free and discounted lunch at Grand Forks Public Schools.
The Backpack program serves students in five elementary schools. The mission intends to expand it to all elementary and secondary schools in the school district, said Sue Shirek, executive director of Northlands Rescue Mission.
Food products and monetary donations will be accepted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Thursday, August 30 to September 30. 2, at the southern entrance to the Alerus Center.
A list of foodstuffs is available on the mission website,
. Each weekend bag the child receives contains 10 items, five for each weekend day, including juice, fruit snacks, oatmeal packets, fruit cups and main meal mixes, Shirek said.
The Backpack program has served around 750 students each year, she said. Extending it to all eligible elementary and middle school students would bring that number to 2,200, she said. Further, “if we could serve all high school students (who qualify) it would be a total of 2,900 for all schools. “
These numbers represent a need that is not new, Shirek said. The food insecurity among children here “predates COVID”.
Whether or not to include high school students in this effort will depend on how the expansion goes to cover all elementary and middle schools, she said.
The mission must first determine “the impact of what it’s going to be to deliver 2,200 meals a week to this group, and to be able to have food to make that happen,” Shirek said. . “If we can develop the capacity to integrate ourselves (the high school students), we would be delighted to do so. We’ll have to see if we can keep it going – and, if we can, we’ll gladly add the high school kids. ”
The mission is also looking for more volunteers to pack and deliver the food bags each week, Shirek said. Anyone interested in volunteering should visit the Mission website,
Some organizations may want to “adopt” a school and purchase food for that school for a period of their choosing, “a week, a month or a year,” Shirek said.
The United Lutheran Church made that commitment by adopting the Phoenix Elementary School, she said, and provides meals for these students during the first week of each month.
Sometimes companies organize food drives to benefit the program, she said. Nevertheless, “we have to buy a lot of food”.
A $ 100 donation will cover the cost of feeding a child on weekends for the entire school year, Shirek said.
Hugo’s Family Marketplace, which is partnering with The Mission in this effort, plans to tag desired backpack items in their stores so that customers can identify, purchase and donate them, Shirek said.
“Hugo’s is an excellent partner” in this project, she said. This company provides all the bags the mission needs and offers a discount on all food items the mission needs to purchase this year.
The Backpack program, which started about 13 years ago, initially served a few elementary schools but over time expanded to include West, Wilder, Winship, Lake Agassiz, Phoenix and Century, Shirek said. These schools had the highest percentage of students qualifying for free and discounted lunch, she said.
Other schools that will be included in this extension of the Backpack program are: Ben Franklin, Discovery, Lewis & Clark, Kelly and Viking Elementary Schools, and Schroeder, South and Valley Colleges.
“Just because a child goes to Discovery or Kelly doesn’t mean that they aren’t among the poorest or hungriest families, and we don’t want to choose which kids get this food just because they live in the district which has more eligible children like them, ”said Shirek.
“Every hungry child should be able to eat on weekends. Every child.
The mission is able to deliver the Backpack program through grants, donations and volunteering, she said. “We need the community’s help to make this program work, especially as we increase our capacity. ”
Mission staff also explore opportunities for contributions from national food distributors, such as companies that produce packets of oatmeal, for example, and write grants for funds to complement local support, a- she declared.
“This is one of those great programs where you can either donate and the money stays here in our schools for our kids,” Shirek said. “Or, you can go to the store every week and throw in some oatmeal or fruit cups or juice or whatever, and drop them off all year round because we have to continue that not just week to week. come, but throughout the school year. ”
“It can’t be a one-off thing. There has to be a community response to this need, ”she said. “Even though people cannot make it to the reader, they can drop off items at any time of the year at the Mission because we will need food all year round. “