Community Bands Together to Continue Backpack Program

June 25, 2012—Now that summer is here, many school nutrition programs participate in the Summer Food Service Program to assist families whose children may not otherwise receive healthy summer meals. Another such program that many school districts coordinate, often during the academic year, to assist students who would not otherwise receive meals is a backpack program.

One such district, Yankton (S.D.) School District, has an inspiring story to share about how the community teamed up to save a backpack program whose funds were in danger of being drastically reduced.

Sandi Kramer, the Yankton district’s school nutrition director, serves as a representative on the backpack program (called the Sack Pack Program) board. The volunteer board, which provides sack packs for the weekend for students in need, learned last school year that it did not have enough funds to run the Sack Pack program through the end of the school year without removing one school from the program. Ultimately, principals throughout the school district decided that the best option would be to drop one school, Stewart Elementary School, from the program.            

Then, just before the 2011 holiday season, Kramer received a phone call from Mike Huether, the mayor of Sioux Falls, S.D. He had heard the news about Yankton’s Sack Pack program and asked how much money would be needed to continue to bring the program to Stewart Elementary for the rest of the school year. Huether volunteered to contribute the $7,000 needed to continue providing Sack Pack meals at Stewart and challenged the Sack Pack board to conduct a fundraiser. Huether and his wife Cindy, both Yankton natives, explained that they would match the amount raised.

Kramer and her board challenged everyone in the community to help. “We had doctors, clinics, hospital staff, manufacturers, school district staff, churches, parent teacher associations (PTAs) and student councils who contributed money,” she says, noting that in less than six weeks, the fundraiser surpassed the Sack Pack board’s goal of $25,000. With the Huethers’ matching donation, the community raised more than $55,000 to continue the Sack Pack program. In addition to serving the already participating schools, the program also will add another school in the fall.

Throughout the fundraiser, community members responded to radio challenges encouraging Yankton residents to donate.  Doctors, representatives from local businesses and others went on the air to issue the challenges. Yankton herself and other Sack Pack board members also spoke over the air to explain the importance of the project and to detail the Sack Pack program. “I went on the radio and challenged all school district employees that my staff was [paying $1.00 to wear jeans and asked] what the teachers, custodians and secretaries could do to top us. I told how one PTA and student council donated money [and urged] others to match them or contribute more,” she explains. Other funds raised came from bake sales, community contests and beyond, including from a group of teachers who contributed their winnings from a district weight loss contest and another teacher who donated his winnings from a car dealership contest.

In an article in the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Mike Huether noted, “The biggest surprise to me was, it wasn’t a lot of large-dollar donations. It was a lot of small ones. It was young people, old people, organizations and businesses rallying to raise over $25,000. It was a grassroots effort, and it was ultimately accomplished.” 

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