Area school-based programs address food insecurity one backpack at a time
By Barb Bondioli/Paul Liebherr
Wisconsin Rapids School District- Rapids Family Backpacks/Nekoosa School District – Backpack For Kids
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – Rapids Family Backpacks and Nekoosa’s Backpacks For Kids are two area programs that are available for families experiencing food insecurity in the Wisconsin Rapids area. Both are weekend meal-in-a-backpack programs, designed to help provide families more food over the weekend, when children do not have access to school lunch.
Many families find it hard to stretch their food budget over the weekend. Parents report they sometimes reduce their own meal size so that their children have more. These weekend backpack programs help with that.
Using a backpack helps kids feel less embarrassed about taking food home for their family; the backpacks look like any other, and kids can bring food home without standing out or being teased. Families have used the words “wonderful” and “Godsend” when describing the backpack programs.
Nekoosa’s Backpack For Kids program serves Nekoosa School District families. About 32 backpacks are filled every Friday throughout the school year and distributed in the district – 11 to Humke Elementary School, 16 to Alexander Middle School, two at Nekoosa Academy, and three in Nekoosa High School. This equates to 143 individuals served each week. Students from the Nekoosa Academy purchase, sort, pack, and deliver the backpacks to the schools every week. The food comes from a variety of sources: community donations, Piggly Wiggly, and local food pantries. The program has been in operation for more than 10 years.
Rapids Family Backpacks (RFB) serves families with students who attend the Wisconsin Rapids School District. RFB sends home 68 backpacks weekly during the 2018-19 school year, on the last day of the school week. Approximately 60 backpacks are divided between the elementary schools in the district and Wisconsin Rapids Area Middle School (WRAMS) receives eight.
The program at WRAMS is a new pilot program for this school year, and operates out of the South Wood Emerging Pantry Shelf (SWEPS). SWEPS also sends home food in a modified backpack program for families at Lincoln High School.
RFB has many community partners that help make this program possible, starting with River Cities High School, whose students and staff pack and deliver the meals each week to the elementary schools. Other community partners include United Way, Boys & Girls Club, local churches, businesses, fraternal organizations, and individuals who donate food and/or funds to the program.
This program has been operating for eight years and is a great resource for families who need help to become more food secure.