The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

December 19, 2012

Backpack Food Program gears up for kids' school break

MANKATO — Nicole Swanson was a lucky woman Wednesday.

When the volunteers she’d lined up to help fill boxes for the Backpack Food Program’s Winter Break boxes hit the end of their shift at noon, they just kept right on working.

Three hours later, they finally called it a day.

“The volunteers today stayed double. It’s pretty amazing,” Swanson said. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without volunteers. The people who volunteer for us are really passionate.”

The volunteers gathered to assemble food into boxes that will go home with kids over winter break who, unfortunately, would probably be a lot hungrier without it. Normally the Backpack Food Program sends food home in backpacks with kids who need food during the weekends.

But when they go home for break, they’re not getting the free or reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches they normally get from school cafeterias. So the Backpack Food Program, thanks to some contributions from some participating schools, and a donation from Wynn and Ginnette Kearney, will be taking care of many of them.

There are more than 500 kids in the regular program that runs when school is in session. During the school break, a separate portion of the program for which kids had to sign up, they’ll be serving about 300 kids.

And that’s the number of boxes that had to be filled with enough food for kids to eat breakfast, lunch and snacks for 14 days. Each box, when filled, weighed 17.5 pounds.  They contain healthy, easy-to-prepare fresh and shelf-stable items such as fresh fruit, bread, yogurt, cheese, carrots, soup, chili and pancakes. More than 5,000 pounds of food and more than 500 gallons of milk and juice will be distributed.

Filling the boxes, of course, were volunteers.

Colleen Pankonin and her daughter, Brooke, were busy throwing pudding packs and fruit cups into boxes. Mom says volunteering for a program like this isn’t work. It’s uplifting.

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