Hungry students across North Dakota and in Clay County in Minnesota are finding expanding programs to make sure they have food not only during school hours, but also on the weekends and in the summer months.
The Great Plains Food Bank is leading the effort and has continually been trying new ways and adding sites to make sure low-income families and their children can receive the food they need, according to Jared Slinde, food bank communications director.
The most recent push includes 22 new sites for programs, he said, which is part of the effort that has been feeding about 36,000 in recent years but is likely to increase.
It comes at a time when Democratic Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, who chairs a U.S. House Agriculture subcommittee, said nearly a million children nationwide could lose eligibility for free school meals under proposed changes by the Administration. She said a newly released federal Department of Agriculture analysis "more than doubles the figures USDA first estimated."
The state's food bank efforts also come while a community conversation in Fargo earlier this month discussed ways to make sure all children receive a hot lunch and that low-income families aren't singled out if they can't pay the bill. During the gathering, a Facebook group called Lunch Aid that held a 10-band fundraiser this summer donated almost $20,000 to cover school lunch debt in the Fargo district. Those attending were school officials, teachers, union members and other community residents.
The group discussed starting a petition drive for a statewide initiated ballot measure or using some of the state's Legacy Fund of oil tax revenue to guarantee hot lunches for all students in the state.
The local food bank is trying to make a difference also as program director Nancy Carriveau said children are "a top priority."
"Kids don't chose their circumstances and thanks to incredible commitments from our donors, staff and volunteers, we were proud to be able to expand these needed program this year," she said in a statement.
Carriveau also said they hope to do more in the future.
Slinde said the most popular of the programs involves filling student's backpacks on Fridays with food for the weekend. He said some of the items included are snacks and juices.
The program is offered at 43 schools in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo and 53 other towns in North Dakota. The three new locations added this year in the program were Deer Creek Elementary in Fargo, Enderlin and Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock.
In 2018, Slinde said 120,000 backpacks were filled during the year.
Also offered at the schools in is a program called the School Pantry Program, which places a food pantry directly inside schools where students and their families can find a "reliable food source."
This year, the food bank added 10 new sites, bringing the total to 22 pantries statewide. New locations added this year were Liberty Middle School in West Fargo, Horizon Middle School East and Horizon Middle School West in Moorhead, Central Cass, Mary Stark Elementary in Mandan, South Central High School in Bismarck, Longfellow Elementary School in Minot, Jamestown High School, Jamestown Middle School and United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck.
Slinde said most of the schools have different structures in how they run their food pantries with different hours and ways to access them.
To also help when children aren't in school, the food bank expanded its Youth Summer Meals Program from four to nine sites. It offers a free lunch to children in need. Sites added this year were five locations in Jamestown, Hillsboro, Enderlin. West Fargo and Fargo.
Across the state and in Clay County, Slinde said they have 213 places in 99 communities where food is distributed to needy senior citizens, families and children.