The Milbank Backpack Program has added two schools in which they will provide meals to as the upcoming school year is preparing to kick off. In addition to Milbank, Grant-Deuel and Wilmot public schools, meals will now be provided to students in need from St. Lawrence School and American Lutheran Preschool.
“Everyone needs a helping hand, even if its just for a short time,” stated Jenn Falk, program director. “We are happy to add these new schools.”
In its fifth year, the program is going strong and runs very smoothly, according to Falk. The purpose of the program is to provide weekend meals to children who may not have enough to eat over the weekend. The program runs throughout the school year.
“We run this program for the sake of the children,” mentioned Falk. The program generally provides food to between 120 and 140 students per year. Non-perishable food items for breakfast, lunch and snacks are provided in plastic bags and placed in the child’s locker/backpack on the last day of the school week. The program is confidential. The only people who know who is receiving the food is the staff in the schools who are in charge of the enrollment forms.
The program is run strictly by volunteers, in which Falk is one of. A group of volunteers make up a board for the program. They include Sandy MacMillion, packing scheduler; Doug Aden, treasurer; Rhonda Zinter, Milbank representative; Kathy Roggenbuck, Grant-Deuel representative; Stacy DeBoer, Wilmot representative; Terri Mielitz, Dell Cross and Falk. Julie Nolz, at Koch School, takes care of the enrollment forms for Milbank.
Cross volunteers a large number of hours to the program. He is present for nearly every packing day and helps the volunteering groups with the packing. “He makes sure that every bag receives every items and counts and double counts to make sure our numbers our correct,” explained Falk. Cross also is in charge of the ordering and organizing of the food items. He calls in the order each week from Berens Warehouse Groceries in Milbank. He orders the items in bulk and makes sure the items ordered matches the numbers of sacks needed each week.
Parents request the program if they feel they cannot provide enough food for their child for the upcoming weekend. Families can enroll any time throughout the school year and can drop out at any time as well. The number of sacks provided each week varies as families enroll or discontinue the service. There is no income or other eligibility requirements. Families are on the honor system. “Just like a lot of programs, it can be abused,” noted Falk. “We trust our families and continue to provide this service because of the children.”
The program is funded strictly by donations. “Our community has been very generous with this program,” said Falk. “Many groups do fundraisers and donate funds raised for our program.”
This summer was the first time the program implemented a summer-long pledge campaign. “In the past we had held our campaigns over a two-week period,” Falk explained. “Donations would continue to trickle in throughout the summer so this year we decided to try a summer-long campaign.” Falk has not seen much difference in the two, but continues to receive the needed donations to fund the program.
Donations can be sent to Central United Methodist Church in care of the backpack program. The program is not run through the church, but uses the church for its address and packing location. Falk noted that they would like to have people commit to donating a certain dollar amount every month towards the program. “This would help us knowing that we had so much money coming in every month,” she said. Each meal is approximately $4 per child for a regular two-day weekend. Over the course of the school year, it takes between $20,000 and $21,000 to run the program. Grant-Deuel and Wilmot district also help with fundraising. Falk is also open to fundraising ideas that would like to suggest.
The program also looks for volunteers to help with the packing of the food sacks each week. Combined Appeal generally packs once a month with other groups changing weekly. If any group would like to volunteer to pack, please contact Sandy MacMillion at Central United Methodist Church at 432-4766.