Supplemental food programs help fight hunger in Chatfield children

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Chatfield’s backpack food program has provided lunch with a bunch, lunch at home, and snacking opportunities for oh-so-happy times.

“The success of the program has been a result of grants from the Episcopal and Methodist churches,” stated Denise Pagel, the volunteer coordinator of the Chatfield Community Food Shelf Backpack Food Program.

The Lunch at the Library Friday food program offers free nutritious meals to any youngster who stops by Chatfield Public Library on Friday mornings throughout the summer, just one of the three food programs available in the community through the generosity of donors.

Pagel also cited, “In addition, children bring food donations throughout the week of vacation Bible school through collaborative efforts of the Lutheran and Methodist churches, and All-American Cooperative in Stewartville gave us shelf-stable milk and meat sticks through their supplier of Nutra Blend. This week, Hanson Concessions generously donated Ellsworth cheese curds. This was one example of a donation that was able to be shared with the community food shelf as well. I’m blessed to have the support of our local Alpha Delta Kappa (ADK) group who assist with meal preparation and serving and believe in its need.”

The Lunch at the Library program was piloted at the end of the school year three years ago, and it has proven itself to be a vital service to the community.

“This is our third year with summer library lunches. The patio area in front of the library has been a gathering spot for young families, especially since the summer reading program activities have ended,” Pagel said. “The challenge of the library lunch program is knowing how many to plan for. We’re continuing to learn how to be more efficient and now have PB&J Uncrustables kept in the freezer at the library, as well as some other items, to be able to make up additional lunches. We will continue to partner with the Chatfield Public Library, as knowing scheduled programs assists us in planning for numbers of lunches.”

The weekend backpack food program, which was begun in 2014, offers Chatfield students a bag of supplemental food to keep them filled up over Saturday and Sunday, until they’re back in school for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday.

Pagel highlighted what the difference between the Lunch at the Library and the weekend program is in terms of needed donations from individuals and local groups. “Library lunches involve the making of different types of sandwiches, barbecues, walking tacos or hot dogs. The weekend food program is more convenient, easy to prepare products such as Tuna Helper, mac and cheese and ravioli.”

She went on to list what’s useful at the weekend backpack food program bagging site. “The weekend backpack program can always use cereal, ravioli, mac and cheese, tuna, canned vegetables or fruit, pork and beans, granola bars, individual pudding and applesauce cups…but no glass containers, please. Items like granola bars and individual pudding and applesauce are also used for library lunches.”

Pagel expressed her appreciation for the generous volunteerism of local residents who come to bag and deliver backpack food items. “I have been fortunate to have a dedicated couple, Larry and Marlene Luiken, pack and deliver most weeks. There’s always room for backup volunteers,” she said.

Pagel observed that enrollment in the weekend program changes over the course of the school year. “Enrollment was down this past calendar year, and that may be in part to families moving from the district, but I do not receive any logistics on this. Families with students in grades kindergarten through 12th are eligible to participate – look for forms in the Gopher Gazette or contact your school counselor. The program will resume Thursday, Sept. 27.”

Also, Chatfield Elementary’s kindergarten through third grade snack program allows students to have some good-for-them munchies during their daily milk breaks.

“The snack program snacks are being supplied for students in kindergarten through third grade who need them through the weekend backpack program,” Pagel explained. “The supply is coordinated by myself and the school counselor, who then distributes them to the classrooms. Honey Nut Cheerios, goldfish crackers and pretzels are the main items supplied. I encourage local non-profits and women’s church circles to consider taking a month. The ADK group has also financially supported this program since its beginnings.”

Pagel said the programs have shown themselves to be necessary in Chatfield. “Hunger is evident in our community. These programs have evolved because of the need,” she said.

Cash is always appreciated to help fill in the gaps from other donations, and checks can be made out to Chatfield Weekend Food Program and sent to Chatfield UMC, 124 Winona St. SE, Chatfield, MN, 55923.

“The rewards are in the ‘thank yous’ we receive from children coming to library lunches, telling us their favorite lunch foods, like carrot sticks and pudding, and our local teachers appreciate our in-school programs,” Pagel concluded.