NORTH MANKATO — As hundreds of food boxes went out to families Thursday to keep kids fed over the long winter break, Feeding Our Communities Partners’ Holly Dodge said the need for their food distribution continues to grow.
“A lot of the people who are on our program are families who are just struggling to keep their heads above water,” the communications coordinator said.
“Trying to feed kids over a holiday break is, you’ve already got the holiday stressors and you might not have child care, and then it’s just so easy to see how food seems so humble, but it’s so important.”
FOCP delivered more than 900 boxes Thursday. The program helps provide K-12 students in 30 area schools within six districts 15 days’ worth of food including breakfast, lunch and snacks while students don’t have access to school meals on break.
Dodge said their program enrollment is continuing to grow amid inflation and rising food costs.
About eight years ago, during the nonprofit’s first winter break distribution, Dodge said they were serving fewer than a hundred students.
Increasing food access
As food costs continue to rise, the program also is working to break down barriers to accessing food.
On Thursday volunteers helped distribute the food to families’ doorsteps.
While the distribution has been going on for a number of years, their current method of delivery is relatively new, and Dodge said it helps their clients.
“Back in the day, we used to have families come to us to pick up this food, and then when COVID happened, we obviously had to shift. So we came up with this idea,” she said.
“But it’s really nice, because the other problem is when we were having families come here, there might be the barrier of transportation or work hours or child care, etc. Doing it this way ensures that everyone who’s on our program gets their food.”
Dodge said the organization tries to make sure that all of the food is age appropriate and meets nutritional guidelines. She added that they try to include food that kids can prepare for themselves. Because of their delivery system, they’re able to offer fresh and frozen food.
Boxes also include books for elementary students, vouchers for milk and produce, and free play passes for the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota.
All of the food is purchased with community funding, Dodge said.
“We don’t receive any federal or government assistance … because we don’t want any red tape. We want no barriers for students, so our enrollment is very simple,” she said. “We’re trying to raise money to recoup some of the costs, because over the years, we’re seeing that there’s a greater need.”
Volunteer Stacy Spencer, who was volunteering with ISG employees Thursday, was among those delivering the food.
She said it’s rewarding to see the smiles on families’ faces.
“You don’t always get to see someone, but when you do, they’re always so thankful and just happy that you’re there,” Spencer said.
Volunteer Jim Fedson also emphasized the community need.
“It’s very important, and it’s great to see a lot of people from the community here helping out. It’s a big project for everyone to get this organized,” he said.
The program’s next distribution like this will be in June.
Dodge said it’s easy to sign up for distributions they do in the future.
“It’s super simple. People can contact their school. They can call us directly. You can go on our website. We have literally no guidelines. We’re just there to help people when they need it. You can enroll or un-enroll at any time,” she said.