United Way helps Sunnyside Elementary

Souris Valley United Way has provided a $10,000 grant for a start-up program that will enable 50 qualifying children at Sunnyside Elementary to take home backpacks filled with food on weekends next school year.

The Backpack Buddies pilot program is possible due to a partnership between United Way, Minot State University, The Welcome Table and the Lord’s Cupboard Food Pantry.

“We are very proud to provide the initial funds for the Backpack Buddies program,” said Souris Valley United Way executive director Patricia Smith. “By working with community partners, we can find solutions to areas of need in our community. Now, kids will have the food they need to focus on school.”

The program got its start when the Minot State University Staff Leadership Group, which was tasked with coming up with a member-designed project that would benefit the campus or community, did some brainstorming about ways to help kids who might go hungry over the weekend.

The leadership group, made up of 10 staff members, sought out The Welcome Table, which agreed to administer the program and distribute backpacks filled with non-perishable food. MSU’s College of Business Leadership Program includes a member-designed project for the betterment of the campus or the community.

Rev. Mark Frueh, president of The Welcome Table, said the program is hapy to work with the other groups to make the backpack program a success.

Beginning in the fall, the backpacks will be distributed each Friday to the 50 children at the school. The cost of the program is estimated at $4.50 per week and $165 per child for the 37 week school year.

Vicki Troftgruben, a staff member, said the group hopes to expand the program to additional schools in the school district, though that will require additional fundraising. Smith said United Way will likely grant the program an additional $15,000 for the 2014-2015 school year.

However, additional donations and grants will likely be needed. Troftgruben said the group consulted with other cities that run similar backpack programs and some of those cities provide more food over the weekend. She said they will likely call on volunteers at Minot State to help fill the backpacks.

Thirty-one percent of children in the Minot Public Schools qualify for free or reduced price lunches under federal income guidelines. Sunnyside Elementary was chosen for the pilot program because it has the highest percentage of qualifying children in the district, with 49 percent of the youngsters qualifying for free lunches and 10 percent of students qualifying for reduced price lunches.

Minot Public Schools Superintendent Mark Vollmer said it is a wonderful program. Even though there is financial prosperity in the area, many families in Minot still struggle to make ends meet, he said.