BackPack Program Preservedback to list
Posted: March 26th, 2012
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11:27 PM, Mar. 25, 2012
A second year of Feeding South Dakota’s summer BackPack Program in Sioux Falls was in jeopardy until an unanticipated $25,000 donation was received March 22.
“We had not made a commitment because I did not know if we could fund it,” Feeding South Dakota Executive Director Matt Gassen said. “Then I got a call from the Argus Leader.
“It’s a godsend, I guess.”
The money will allow Feeding South Dakota to fully fund its project to send home food on the weekends with as many as 600 children who get free lunches during the week in summer at six schools and four community organizations around Sioux Falls.
Argus Leader Media Publisher Randell Beck says a surplus existed from the Argus Leader’s Lend-A-Hand program partnership with Dean Foods and Faith Temple Church to provide milk for needy families.
“Somehow it was just sitting there waiting to meet the needs of these 600 kids,” Beck told Gassen when he delivered the $25,000 check.
Greg Robinson, Argus Leader director of administration and controller, is a member of the Feeding South Dakota board of directors. He suggested funding the summer BackPack Program would be a good use of the Lend-A-Hand surplus.
Lend-A-Hand is the Argus Leader’s annual holiday season fundraising campaign. It was founded in 1998 by former publisher Arnold Garson. The Argus Leader solicits donations from the community every year and makes a contribution to area charities. The Argus Leader handles the administrative expense of the campaign, so all the donated money goes to the designated recipients.
In making the $25,000 contribution to Feeding South Dakota, Beck noted it was “on behalf of the people of Sioux Falls.”
For three years, the BackPack Program was Lend-A-Hand’s designated charity. Since 2007, Lend-A-Hand has given $500,000 to the program, according to Gassen.
“This program isn’t where it is today without the help of Lend-A-Hand,” he said. The BackPack program began in 2007. Back then, it provided weekend food during the school year for 100 students at Hawthorne Elementary and Axtell Park Middle School in Sioux Falls.
Now the program has grown to serve 4,329 students from 71 schools around the state who are at risk of going hungry on the weekends.
The realization hunger doesn’t take the summer off led to the first summer BackPack Program last year. During the school year, Feeding South Dakota relies on school officials to identify students who could benefit from a supply of food on the weekends. For the summer program, however, “We offer them to whoever comes through the door,” says Gassen.
The assumption is everybody participating in the Monday-through-Friday free meal program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and overseen by the South Dakota Department of Education Child and Adult Nutrition Service could use additional food on the weekend. Gassen anticipates children in Sioux Falls from pre-school through 12th grade will take advantage of the opportunity this summer.
“Now we need someone to step up and fund the program in Rapid City,” he said.
The summer BackPack Program will operate from June 8 to Aug. 10, said Allison Struck, Sioux Falls BackPack Program coordinator. Offering the program in summer will create extra work for Feeding South Dakota’s corps of BackPack Program volunteers, Struck says. But she quickly adds “We have a waiting list of volunteers.”
Volunteers assemble every week at Feeding South Dakota’s warehouse to fill packs with nutritious food recommended by dieticians from Hy-Vee and the University of South Dakota.
The BackPack program, with its uncomplicated goal of alleviating childrens’ hunger, is a hallmark of successful philanthropy, according to Gassen.
“It’s a partnership among the schools, the donors and the volunteers,” he says. “We coordinate the pieces.”