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Weekend food packs help keep little bellies full

Bags containing cereal, pasta dishes, milk and fruit will be sent home each weekend with kids at Minnehaha Elementary. It's part of the backpack program, which helps students dealing with food insecurity stay fed over the weekend. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky.1 / 2
Kay Sheils packs a bag of food on Wednesday that will be sent home this weekend with a child at Minnehaha Elementary. Her husband Jim, Meredith Medler and Irene Erickson are doing the same in the background. The backpack program, which began last week, is a collaboration between Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank and will send food home with kids that might not otherwise have enough to eat over the weekend. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky2 / 2

A new program debuted this week at Minnehaha Elementary School that will help keep kids in Two Harbors full during the long weekend.

It all started last winter when Two Harbors resident Martha Hanson read about The BackPack Program, which rolled out in Duluth earlier this year. It sends bags of easy-to-prepare dishes home with kids for the weekend, when they might not otherwise have reliable access to food.

"I thought, 'Why can't we do this in Two Harbors?'" Hanson said.

She brought the idea to the mission board at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, on which she serves, and then she started speaking to school administrators. Meredith Medler, also on the mission board, jumped at the chance to help and Pastor John Dietz championed the cause, too. It was an easy project to which the board could commit, she said, because child hunger resonates with everyone.

"We're hoping to get a lot of community support," Medler said. "Somebody just had to start it."

The BackPack Program has been operating nationally since 1995 and came to the Northland in 2010. Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank helps facilitate the program in communities across northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin.

Kris Horman, the program director for Second Harvest, helped Medler and Hanson get the program off the ground in Two Harbors. She said child hunger sometimes is hard to see, but it exists in every community. Second Harvest estimates that 20 percent of kids in Lake County are food-insecure, meaning they don't know from where they will get their next meal. That's higher than the regional average. About 150 kids at Minnehaha Elementary receive subsidized lunches, and Horman said they are expecting to send food home with about 30 kids.

"It could be your neighbor's kids. Maybe they look happy, but the weekends are hard," Horman said.

The program relies on teachers and administrators to find the kids who need food. Horman recalled a story about a teacher in Cloquet who noticed that a student would save the snacks she passed out during class. When she asked why, he said he was saving them for his brother so he'd have something to eat after school.

"It's little things like that that the teachers pick up on," Horman said.

After the students are identified, their parents are contacted for permission to send food home. Then, Bethlehem Lutheran Church volunteers pack bags full of nonperishable food such as microwavable soups and granola bars. Administrators and teachers put plastic bags of food in lockers during the day on Thursday. Kids can put them in their backpack and take them home for the weekend. Keeping the program covert is important for the kids, Horman said.

"It's so they aren't singled out or bullied or made fun of," she said.

The program will cost $7,000, depending on the number of participants. Bethlehem has pledged one-third of the cost. and Second Harvest still is accepting donations to cover what remains. Donations can be specified to the Two Harbors program and made via their website at or through pledge forms, which are available at the Lake County News-Chronicle office.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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