NORTH MANKATO — More than 800 youngsters will have full stomachs and new books to read over their winter break thanks to the Holiday Feed and Read.

With financial and volunteer support from a number of organizations, Feeding our Communities Partners distributes food and books to low-income families in four area school districts.

On Tuesday and Wednesday families that are recipients in the BackPack Food Program were invited to come pick up food for the 12 to 13 days their child or children will be out of school and not provided school breakfast and lunch.

It's the fifth holiday distribution that's grown from a handful of Mankato elementary schools to 15 elementary schools in the Mankato, Maple River, Lake Crystal and St. Clair School districts.

Every Friday during the school year, the BackPack Food Program now sends nearly 900 students home with a weekend's worth of nonperishable breakfasts, lunches and snacks.

Before the holiday break, parents are welcomed into one of two locations to retrieve both nonperishable and perishable food. Most recipients come to the Feeding our Communities Partners' North Mankato warehouse while a few dozen picked up their staples at Maple River High School.

Blue Earth Taxi Service provided free rides for families that didn't have their own transportation.

Donations funded the purchase of the food. About 90 volunteers helped pack the boxes of food and another 60 volunteers helped distribute the food, according to Feeding Our Communities Partners Program Manager Nicole Swanson.

Mayo Clinic Health System was the primary sponsor, providing both financing and volunteers, Swanson said.

The BackPack Food Program was able to add perishable items to its distribution thanks to Locher Brothers loaning a portable walk-in refrigerator and the city of North Mankato loaning freezers not in use at city park concession stands.

“There is a lot of people who come together to make this possible,” Swanson said.

For the third year the food recipients also went home with a few books thanks to Delta Kappa Gamma, a group of current and retired area female educators.

“They feed the body. We feed the mind and imagination,” said book drive leader Beth Christensen, a retired Mankato eighth-grade English teacher.

Delta Kappa Gamma collected about 2,700 books. Like the food distribution, the book drive had a number of sponsors.

Two book publishing companies — Child's World and Coughlan Cos. — both donated several hundred books toward the effort. Creekside Boutique hosts two annual fundraisers to help purchase additional books. Delta Kappa Gamma members also contributed dollars.

They worked with the North Mankato Library children’s librarian to select popular titles appropriate for a variety of age groups, Christensen said. The library then helped the educators purchase the titles at a discount.

Delta Kappa Gamma members set up the book station and distributed books along with bookmarks they made. Volunteers from Coughlan read to children while their parents got their food.

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Staff Writer

Public safety and K-12 education reporter 507-344-6354

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