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Kids and Hunger: A growing problem in Western Wisconsin

By: Megan Lowry Email
By: Megan Lowry Email
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MONDOVI, Wis (WEAU)--Even in a small town, where knowing your neighbors brings a sense of pride; it can be hard to know if your neighbor is struggling to eat.

“I could not imagine not being able to feed my kids,” Anna Sandberg said.

Anna says she and another mom, Jennifer Sandberg, decided to something when they overheard heard some of her sons classmates say they didn’t have a food to eat at home.

"We had heard kids were struggling in school, as you can imagine they have trouble concentrating in school and being a good friend," Jennifer said.

With the help of the local food bank and some fundraising Anna and Jennifer were able to start Mondovi’s Back Pack program in March, serving 18 kids during the school year.

"Jennifer and I pack the bags and they go to the teachers. The food goes right into their back pack and there is no need for them to bring anything back," Anna said.

Once a week, the kids are given two breakfasts’ two lunches and snacks.

"We launched it to everyone so no one felt embarrassed to sign up," said Jennifer.

Mondovi Superintendent Cheryl Gullicksrud says over the year’s battle to make ends meet has toughened.

“Working poor is becoming a big problem. They’re out there trying to provide for their families but the income that they are bringing home isn't quite enough to meet the expenses that they have,” said Gullicksrud.

That’s where even help with a couple meals a week can make a huge difference.

"As a mom I know what my kids are like when they are hungry their behavior suffers and that’s why this is so important," said Jennifer.

With a little more support, Jennifer and Anna hope to be able to expand the program to any kid in the district that needs it and into the summer.

“That is really our goal,” said Anna.

"That’s a great wonderful thing for this community to be able to do, we are very fortunate to have wonderful people doing wonderful things,” said Gullicksrud.

We have received so emails from communities across telling us what they are doing to help families.

Stanley-Boyd has a program called 'Weekend Kids Meals' every Friday during the school year and four weekends during the summer families who sign up are given a free pack of food.

And Buffalo and Pepin counties are working with "Take your Place" a national campaign to raise awareness about hunger. A special film will air in the beginning of August to help spread the word on hunger in the U.S. For information on the even you contact Buffalo Public Health and Human Service.

We will have more information on these programs on weau.com.
If you would like to add a program to the list, please let us know.

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(WEAU) - One in five children in the United States is hungry according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It’s a scary statistic that we often associate with big cities--not a problem in our own backyards.

But one-third of kids who attend Wisconsin public schools are living in poverty and 110 school districts in the state have 50% or more kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

"You can see that these students are hungry," Stanley Boyd Food Service Coordinator Deb Zais said. "When kids are hungry they are not thinking about anything else, not school, not even having fun, they are just thinking about a full belly."

The face of poverty is changing in Western Wisconsin.

"A high percentage of the people that seek food assistance are working multiple jobs but it’s not enough to make ends meet," Emily Moore with Feed My People Food Bank said.

According to the USDA it costs the average family of four, with two school age children, $190 a week to eat. That’s $826 dollars month.

Now if a family’s income is at the poverty level that means their annual income is $30,000 or less; that means nearly half their monthly income is going toward food.

“There is just a much bigger struggle for people to meet their basic needs," Moore said.

Moore says they are distributing around 25,000 pounds of food a month and the demand continues to increase.
But she says a good way to measure of how in need a community is can be seen most in schools lunch lines, where sometimes this meal is the only one a child gets the whole day.

"If we can help by providing a meal then families can use the money that they have for the dinner meal or they can pay a bill or buy new clothes or meals,” ECSD Food & Nutrition Director Sue Brown said.

School Districts across the state are stepping in to help feed their students.

The Eau Claire School District is offering free lunch sites this summer and is just one of hundreds of districts using the USDA’S food assistance program for schools. Each district is given state money to provide breakfast and lunch to any child under the age of 18 for free.

"They are healthy nutritious meals," Brown said.

Stanley-Boyd School District has served more than 200 students over the summer and had to extend its hours to help get everyone feed.

"I think some are a little apprehensive about coming and I wish they wouldn't be its so relaxed and open to everybody," said Zais.

But the need doesn't end with the school bell.

“I think solving hunger is possible. What we need to do is concentrate on making sure that our neighbors have food and we can do that," said Moore.


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