EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- An area non-profit is trying to make sure every elementary and pre-kindergarten child in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls won't go hungry on the weekends.
Even on the weekdays, the number of children enrolled in free and reduced meals in Eau Claire schools is vast. 40 percent of the 10,406 students take part in the program. 86 percent of those students are in elementary schools.
Now, the Feed My People Food Bank is helping even more of those children by making bag lunches that last them over the weekend.
“Each Friday, they receive a bag for two breakfasts, two lunches, there’s always two pieces of fresh fruit, often times carrots and the food is kid friendly, easy to prepare in case mom and dad aren't home and nutritious,” said assistant director Suzanne Becker with Feed My People Food Bank.
She said the program expanded by 200 students and she wishes more parents would sign their children up for the free weekend meals.
“We offer the program to any child whether they qualify for free and reduced or not. The vast majority of the kids do fall into that category, and if anything, we think not enough kids participate and we wish more would,” said Becker.
After retiring from teaching in the Eau Claire Area School District in 2011, Judy Israel decided she wanted to help the children she once taught by volunteering at Feed My People.
“I guess I saw enough children that I knew would be hungry on the weekends,” said Israel. “There were some children that I had that would come to school every day. You could tell they were hungry and they were waiting for their lunch so they'd have food.”
She said it’s a harsh reality that many people might not see in the community.
“I don’t think people see that component because they see the shopping at the grocery store and they see the mall, it’s always busy,” said Israel.
She's packing up meals for nearly 1,700 elementary kids in the Eau Claire Area School District and Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District.
Food and nutrition director at ECASD Sue Brown, R.D. said a lunch tray of food may be the most nutritious meal a child gets all day.
“Quite honestly, in some schools we see students eating more on Monday morning so it makes you wonder have they had much to eat over the weekend,” said Brown.
That's why Feed My People Food Bank began the program in 2006 and in 2014, it began offering weekend meals to all elementary and pre-k students in the two districts.
“It’s always been our hope to expand it so that we could offer meals to any child who was in need no matter where they were, what school they were at,” said Becker.
Among the youngest volunteers at Feed My People 7 ½-year-old Dayne Laney. His mom works at Feed My People Food Bank. He said he simply wants to help his friends who might need something eat this weekend.
We asked him why he wants to help out.
“Because it’s nice and if one day if you do it to them they might help you do something too,” said Laney.
Feed My People Food Bank said every elementary and pre-k child in the districts qualify, not just the free and reduced program students.
The non-profit says it hopes to expand the weekend meals to area middle schools come fall.