Chisago County Health and Human Services Director Nancy Dahlin told the Chisago County Board of Commissioners July 5, “We know there are hungry children in our communities.”
In an effort combat that hunger for children who are on free and reduced-price lunches in Rush City Schools, the county is looking to partner with the district to form a “backpack” program that would allow kids to pick up food on Fridays while school is in session to bring home for the weekend.
Dahlin said for some students, the only substantial meal they get during the day is the lunch they receive while they’re at school. On the weekends, their families may struggle to get their kids proper nutrition due to financial circumstances.
County Administrator Bruce Messelt explained that during the summertime when school is out of session, food could be picked up on a weekly basis, and for people who don’t have the transportation means to get to the high school and retrieve it, volunteers could bring it to their homes.
“There appear to be startup funds (for this program), some of which come from the county’s Statewide Health Improvement Program allocation,” Dahlin said.
Just in the Rush City district alone, Dahlin estimated there are 100 or more children who could benefit from the backpack program.
She said the county has already met with administration at the district to talk about the logistics of launching it, and the county will have a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program meeting in August to further address the possibility of starting the program.
“I know this backpack program is on the agenda,” Dahlin said.
All of the commissioners expressed support for the initiative, but Commissioner Mike Robinson had one concern. He expressed worry that some of the students receiving food assistance might get harassed by some of the ones who don’t.
“Typically, it’s pretty discreet,” Messelt said. “The kids are usually quietly notified or asked, and then they go to the office sometime on Friday, and the intent is the food goes in the backpack so it’s not obvious.”
However, Messelt noted some students not receiving assistance would likely find out who among their peers are receiving the food.
“Does it (teasing) happen?” Messelt said. “I’m sure it does. But the reality is the benefits far outweigh any risks.”
Fare for All
In addition to the backpack program, Dahlin said the Health and Human Services Department is working through SNAP to hopefully bring a Fare for All site to the Rush City area.
Fare for All purchases fresh fruits, vegetables and frozen meat in bulk to save customers up to 40 percent off grocery store prices. They do food distributions once a month at selected sites. In North Branch, that site is Trinity Lutheran Church. It draws people from around the region, but people who don’t have their own vehicle might find it difficult to get from Rush City to North Branch to pick up food.
“The Fare for All coordinator is chomping at the bit and looking for a site in that community,” Dahlin said. “It would be more than just people in Rush City proper who would benefit from that site. We’re optimistic.”