For kids, summer means a break from the demands of school, but for some, it can also mean a break from guaranteed lunches.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, over 1,800 children in Chisago County qualify for its Free and Reduced Price lunches, which are not available during summer break.
Trinity Lutheran Church of North Branch is hoping to fill that gap and some bellies by offering its new “Summer Food Backpack Program.”
“Our aim is to assist anyone that is food insecure,” said Donna Setter, co-chair of the project. “We distributed flyers at the end of the school year and just wanted to target those with the greatest need.”
The church, through a partnership with Family Pathways, will offer free bags of food items every Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. at the church at 38460 Lincoln Trail, North Branch, or in Stacy Lions Park on Stacy Trail. The last day of the program will be Wednesday, Aug. 28.
Although the program was initially begun to help those who qualify for free or reduced price lunches, Setter said there is no paperwork involved and no income limits for families to come out and get lunches.
“We will not turn anyone away,” she said. “We do not ask any questions if someone comes to pick up food.”
What to expect for lunch
The lunch bags are available to every child in a family and will contain enough food to offer a child a minimum of three lunches.
Nutritionally, the bags will contain two proteins, two dairy, two fruit, two vegetables. That might look like a jar of peanut butter, box of macaroni and cheese, two pudding cups, two granola bars, a cup of applesauce, a bag of fruit chews and two string cheese.
Fresh items like apples, oranges or loaves of bread will generally be available as well.
A schedule of the contents will rotate weekly for four weeks, then be repeated.
“We get most of the food from Family Pathways,” Setter said. “We supplement the bags with pudding cups, applesauce, string cheese and fruit gummies.”
With word of the program getting out, numbers have increased to around 75 children receiving lunches each week.
In addition to feeding bodies, the program feeds minds by also offering free books with each lunch.
“The books are used,” Setter said, “and were either donated by members of the congregation or picked up at garage sales.”
How did project begin?
The church began offering the bags in June and is tweaking the program, which is in its first year.
“Trinity formed an outreach committee earlier this year,” Setter said, “and it was the outcome of discussions by this group.”
The whole congregation has been on board with making sure the lunch bags are ready each week.
“Trinity has been setting up tables before service on Sunday mornings,” Setter said, “so that as people come to church they pack a bag, thereby including the entire congregation in the program.”
Volunteers from the church also hand out the bags on Wednesday evenings at the church and Stacy park.
Setter said the congregation is looking ahead to fall when it hopes to continue in the same spirit by offering food backpacks at Sunrise River School.
How to help
Even with support from the congregation, the program can always use more help – financial and food.
“Family Pathways provided us with startup funds,” Setter noted, “and we’ve received a Thrivent Grant, and Trinity has allocated funds to the outreach committee which is being used to fund the program. Our hope is that this will grow into a community-wide supported program.”
Those wishing to donate money can choose one of two ways: send a check to Trinity Lutheran Church, P.O. Box 447, North Branch, MN 55056 with a note saying it’s for the “Summer Food Backpack Program,” or donate to Family Pathways with a directive that it be credited to the “Trinity Backpack Program.”
Food donations can be made directly to Family Pathways, even excess garden produce.
“Family Pathways will give us $1 credit for each pound of food donated,” Setter noted.
For information on the program call Donna Setter at 612-363-5072 or email Set123@aol.com.