Organizers have expanded a program that provides 6 pounds of food a week to local school children.
Last year, Project Backpack began distributing food to children at both Waupaca elementary schools, the middle school and Head Start.
This year, the program has reached out to Waupaca High School and the alternative school. It now also provides food to students in the Weyauwega-Fremont School District.
“The backpacks are filled with enough food for two light breakfasts, two light dinners, two lunches and some snacks,” said Rev. Dave Martin, the missions pastor at Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church in Waupaca. “We want to give them as much food as we can, but we need to put in some lighter items so the smaller children can carry the backpacks home.”
Martin said a variety of food is included in the backpacks, ranging from mac and cheese to canned soup, cereal and juice. The goal is to provide enough food for the weekend, when the students are not in school receiving low-cost lunches.
“Once a month, we’ll send a jar of peanut butter and vouchers for milk and bread,” Martin said.
Volunteers fill the backpacks and deliver them to the schools.
Students who are participating in the program pick up the filled backpacks at school, then return them at the beginning of the following week to be refilled.
Only a few employees in the school district know the names of the children participating in the project to keep it confidential.
Project Backpack had its origins in a discussion at Shepherd of the Lakes about the growing number of children living poverty.
Martin said that while Shepherd of the Lakes launched the program, other churches have become involved, providing volunteers and food.
Among the participating churches are Victory Church, First United Methodist, St. Mark’s Episcopal and St. Mary Magdalene’s Catholic Community. Women’s groups at Trinity Lutheran, Parfreyville Methodist and First Presbyterian in Weyauwega are also helping the project grow. There are more than 130 volunteers in the program.
Area businesses have also been contributing to the program. Recently, Sara Lee, which has a meat products plant in New London, donated $7,000 to Project Backpack.
“It costs about $350 to keep a backpack filled for the course of the school year,” Martin said. “That $7,000 will fill 20 backpacks for a year.”
More than 100 students in Waupaca participate in Project Backpack, and so far 18 Weyauwega-Fremont students are in the program.
“When we started this project, we didn’t realize there was so much hunger in our area,” Martin said. “We are touching the lives of quite a few families.”
Tax-deductible donations can be sent to Project Backpack, 153 County road QQ, Waupaca, WI 54981.
For more information, contact Martin at 715-258-8061.