EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)-- According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in five adults and children nationwide are food insecure. A UW-Extension study shows this holds true here in Eau Claire County as well. But one local school is looking to make a difference through a project called "Fight Against Hunger."
Their four-pronged solution is teaching children at an early age that full tummies leads to ready minds and happy hearts. WEAU's Bob Gallaher explains in "Food for Thought."
"The hardest thing to do is to ask for food..."
At Prairie Ridge Early Learning School in Eau Claire, teachers and staff are committed to fighting hunger in preschool aged children and their families. Educators believe when children are adequately fed, they are more ready to learn.
"We don't want any fingers in our soup."
Melinda Daubitz is a teaching assistant at Prairie Ridge that started a Crock Pot program for the families of their three-year olds. Prairie Ridge families receive a Crock Pot, recipes and ingredients with pictures.
Daubitz says, "That really is just a pre-reading skill and it teaches kids to listen, but also to watch, because they can identify it and those are the emerging reading skills that we just love to see."
Daubitz says the goal is for children to make healthy choices because sometimes the things that are the least expensive are the worst for our bodies. She says behavioral issues at a young age could be because the child is hungry.
"Three-year-olds in the kitchen can be a scary thing, and so, working on the skills a little bit of the time gives them the confidence that they can do it at home."
An on-site food pantry provides Prairie Ridge families access to food and toiletries. Since the program began in 2013, over 70,000 pounds of food have been distributed.
Jill Elliot, Prairie Ridge Family and Community Partnership Coordinator explains, "We have a high rate of free-and-reduced-meal-students in the school, and having the food here is hitting a need: 20,000 thousand pounds of food going out every year."
Samantha Utt and Nancy Wilkins currently have children and grandchildren at Prairie Ridge. Nancy, a grandmother of five, says the Fight Against Hunger Project provides reliable access to nutritious food.
Wilkins says, "Feeding the child so they can learn, because we all know that if you don't eat, your brain is not going to turn on."
Samantha Utt adds, "I don't like asking for help, but I do come up here, I do ask for help that we need for the kids because we need to pay all those bills, we have to have them fed."
A huge addition to the Fight Against Hunger Project is this Family Garden and Hoop House. The hope is to cultivate children's love of learning, and aid in teaching families essential lifelong skills.
Jaclyn Seyboyd, Speech Language Pathologist at Prairie Ridge Early Learning School says, "Their minds just expand and blossom when they are able to be out in nature, experience nature and grow things, and then they know what they're growing, they know where their food is coming from so they take ownership of their nutrition."
The funding for the project comes after the Eau Claire City-County Health Department secured grant money.
Kelli Engen from the Eau Claire City-County Health Department says, "It is educating kids and families; it is focusing on good health and nutrition."
The final aspect of the Fight Against Hunger Project includes a summer food delivery program. Prairie Ridge will deliver food and Crock Pot recipes to their families.
To donate, you can send a payment to:
Prairie Ridge Early Learning School
3031 Epiphany Lane
Eau Claire, WI 54703
To learn more about the Fight Against Hunger Project, click here.