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Project Backpack makes sure students don't go hungry over the weekend

Posted at 10:27 PM, Nov 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-08 00:00:00-05

In the School District of Waupaca, many families are struggling. 

"About 40% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch and breakfast," explained Superintendent Greg Nyen. 

So what happens during the weekends when food at home is scarce? A program called Project Backpack, through Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church, is filling the gap.

"We try to do breakfast lunch and dinner for two days," said Program Coordinator Paula Thuerman.   

They use monetary donations to buy food in bulk. Then, a team of 200 volunteers helps stuff reusable backpacks throughout the year.

"It's a pretty well oiled machine," Thuerman said. "It's a little bit of an assembly line, but we have fun with it."

The backpacks include healthy food, grocery store coupons for free milk and bread and a piece of paper with words of encouragement. School social workers distribute the bags to students in need, such as Jackie Ewing's son.

"I'm a single mom and I work two jobs to try and just support my kid," she explained. "So this just helps take a little bit of the pressure of the food bill away." 

Nyen said the food over the weekend also helps students concentrate better when they return to school on Monday.

"Nutrition is a crucial factor with the achievement of our students. When students are focused on hunger, they're not able to focus on learning." 

Project Backpack feeds 250 students in five school districts.

Thuerman said, "It's about $1,500 a week." 

They rely on donations to keep the program going. The Waupaca Area Community Foundation just awarded Project Backpack a $7,500 grant which is enough to sustain the program for nearly two months.

"We just feel like they're really good stewards of the funds that we've entrusted to them, and they've really served our community and our children well," said Foundation Board Member Mary Zimmermann.

"I mean it's priceless. We can't even express our thanks enough to what they've done for us," Thuerman said. 

It's a sentiment that is shared by Ewing.

"I'm really grateful for this." 

She knows that with Project Backpack, her son will never have to go hungry.

Project Backpack uses numbers instead of names to make sure the identity of every student they serve remains confidential.

If you would like to donate to the program, you can send a check payable to Project Backpack to 153 County Road QQ, Waupaca, WI 54981.