When City Connects Program Manager Laurie Acker meets with the coordinators she supervises in Minnesota, she routinely asks them a question:
“What services do you need that you don’t have a community partner for yet?”
One common answer is food. Some students come to school hungry, go home hungry, and dread long weekends because their families are grappling with food insecurity. Others hoard the food they receive at lunch.
Community partners help address this kind of problem. They are an essential part of the City Connects model of getting the right services to the right students at the right time, and Acker has worked hard to build these connections.
So when Acker heard about the need for food resources, she reached out to The Sheridan Story, a local nonprofit that fights childhood hunger, and, in 2014, Sheridan Story volunteers began providing food for the weekend at two City Connects schools.
“Our broad network provides 4-5 pounds of substantive, nutritious food directly to the children – at the end of each school week we put the food into their backpack for them to take home,” Sheridan says on its website.
While Sheridan had served families who qualified for free- reduced-price lunches, Acker says, the program now provides food for anyone who is interested.
The need is high. On its website, Sheridan says, “More than 200,000 children in Minnesota live with food insecurity.”
Today, Sheridan reaches some 6,500 of these children in more than 200 schools, including six City Connects schools. And Sheridan volunteers will soon provide food in six additional City Connects schools.
Sheridan recognizes families’ cultural diversity, by offering them a choice of foods. Families from East Africa, for example, can choose not to have pork. An option geared for Southeast Asian dietary preferences, “may contain items such as rice, rice noodles, coconut milk, bamboo shoots, curry paste, green beans, and mandarin oranges.” And there’s an option to receive food that requires little or no preparation.
To fund the program, Sheridan asks schools to find donations to support ten students, which costs – thanks to subsidies — $2,150 per year. In some cases, churches or parent groups provide this support. Eric Kendricks, a Minnesota Vikings football player, also supports Sheridan. And in one case Acker received a donation from a friend. Volunteers come from companies and nonprofit organizations to help pack the food.
One result? Students don’t have to dread the weekend.
“Being hungry; it’s not really something kids talk about,” the young narrator of the Sheridan Story video posted above explains. That’s why it’s so important to see the signs of hunger and respond to them.
Giving students and their families enough food for Saturday and Sunday can help kids focus more on school the following Monday.