In the Waupaca and surrounding school districts, 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches. So great is the need for nutritious food that the Waupaca Area Community Foundation is stepping in to stave off hunger.
A $7,500 grant from WACF is funding Project Backpack, a program run by the Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church in Waupaca. Project Backpack gives hungry children a backpack filled with food each weekend.
“The financial security that this grant brings is immeasurable,” said Paula Thuerman, Program Coordinator. “Before this program, these children could get breakfast and lunch at school, but would not have a reliable food source in the evening or even on weekends. We fill that gap so they can eat on Saturday and Sunday or anytime they’re off school.”
Thuerman says that even mild under-nutrition negatively impacts learning. “The kids can’t focus if they’re hungry. teachers have told me that hunger sets them behind and they never really can catch up,” she says.
This grant will sustain the program for nearly two months. It costs on average up to $1,000 a week to fill the 250 backpacks.
Each week, volunteers shop for the food items, label the ingredients and deliver the backpacks to the schools for distribution.
Founded in June of 2010, Project Backpack serves the Waupaca, Amherst, Manawa, Weyauwega-Fremont, and Iola-Scandinavia school districts. Feeding an average of 250 students every week, the program is working hard to accomplish their mission: To stamp out hunger in area schools one student at a time.
“We partnered with Feeding America last year to gain access to higher quality food at greatly reduced rates,” Thuerman says. She added the organization is always seeking ways to improve their services but are currently seeking quality improvements over aiming to serve a larger area.
“Seeing the support for Project Backpack from the Community Foundation encourages others to also invest in their local community,” Thuerman says. “People like to know that the funds are being spent locally on students right here in our own schools.”