With two months under their belts, the Park Rapids Food Angels are becoming a fine tuned machine.
Kids in grades K-3 who are signed up for the program are given food Friday afternoons to help get them through the weekend.
Some families struggle to provide enough food for their children when school is not in session.
Every Friday, these children receive a grocery bag of food including two entrees, two fruits, two vegetables, two cereals and two snacks. There are five basic menus and they are not too heavy to be comfortably carried by young children in their regular school backpack.
The need for the program arose out of discussions at the Park Rapids Blandin Community Leadership retreat in February. Park Rapids Area Schools Superintendent Lance Bagstad reported that 50 percent of Park Rapids students are on free and reduced meals.
Park Rapids teacher Nicole Brandt was asked if she would be willing to participate in the program. She said yes and got a few other teachers on board as well.
Every Thursday evening, food bags are packed up by a group of volunteers at Riverside United Methodist Church.
The food bags are distributed between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. at the school.
The “Food Angels” find the correct lockers and backpacks to stuff with the food bags.
“It takes some time,” said Brittany Fox, one of the Food Angels at the school.
After the first distribution, a map was made of the classrooms and students to make it go more smoothly.
The first distribution was Friday, Nov. 7. An average of 65 students has been served each week.
Missy Vrieze is also a Food Angel at the school. She, Brandt and Fox have heard good things from students and other teachers about the program.
One student said, “Oh goody! My healthy food came today!”
In another case, a teacher had been struggling with a student who didn’t return papers from home. The teacher knew the student didn’t get much food over the weekend and was hungry.
When the teacher told the student if she returned the permission slip for the Food Angels program she would receive food, it was returned the next morning.
After receiving food, the student then asked the teacher to tell the Food Angels “thank you.”
There have been very few issues but there have been a few cases where the food doesn’t make it home.
“A couple of times the student was hungry and started eating it on the bus or sharing with others,” Fox said.
A reminder note was sent home reminding parents and students that the food is for the entire weekend. A few students were talked to as well.
Pastor Sara Jensen with Calvary Lutheran Church is handling donations to the program and recruiting volunteers to bag food. Volunteers are lined up for the rest of the school year, she said.
“At first we were unsure how many kids we could handle but the donations have come in,” she said.
The program has become a way for the school and community to come together for a common cause.
“It’s a great community partnership,” Jensen said.
Food is brought in monthly from the North Country Food Bank in Crookston.
A Blandin Foundation grant of $4,800 helped to start fund the program but it doesn’t cover the entire program. Each food bag costs between $3.50 and $4.
CHI St. Joseph's Health is managing the funds and accepting monetary donations. Donations can be made to CHI St. Joseph’s Health Foundation. Write “Food Angels” in the memo line of a check.
For more information, to donate or to volunteer to sort food, contact Pastor Jensen at Calvary Lutheran Church at 732-7284.