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Feeding South Dakota kicks off “Summer Backpack Program”

Through the Backpack Program, Feeding South Dakota delivers free meals to children in need.
Through the Backpack Program, Feeding South Dakota delivers free meals to children in need.(Nick Nelson)
Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 7:00 AM MDT
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PIERRE, S.D. (KEVN) - School is out, and that means that Feeding South Dakota is kicking up its operations to make sure no child goes hungry this summer.

The “Summer Backpack Program” will be available to all children under the age of 18 who are at risk of going hungry without the support. The program helps get food to roughly 5,000 South Dakota kids over the summer.

“The backpack program helps provide food to kids who may need foods through the weekends, when they may not be attending other programs throughout the week that provide food,” said Andrew Walz, Feeding South Dakota Central Operations Manager. “We provide food to help them get through the weekend and help them out.”

Nationally, statistics show that only one in seven children who eat a free or reduced meal during the school year also have the opportunity to participate in a summer meal program. In South Dakota, that equals about 11,000 of the more than 77,000 who qualify for free or reduced lunches in the state.

The program aims to provide easy to prepare food options, such as soups, cereals, and canned fruits and vegetables.

Feeding South Dakota partners with different organizations, primarily churches and schools, to make sure the “backpacks” are getting distributed to those who need them.

“I hear back from some of the partners who pass out the bags, they really appreciate having that extra food to provide to kids that they see throughout the summer, and know they have a need that is not getting met at home,” said Walz. “Being able to provide that for them, they really appreciate being able to be a part of the program.”

While the program is one of Feeding South Dakota’s biggest undertakings, it is just one facet of their day to day operations. Operations that always demand as many volunteers as possible.

“One of my first experiences at one of our mobile distributions, a lady came up in genuine tears, crying, so thankful,” said Josh Hansen, Distribution Center Coordinator. “(She) Gave me a hug and told me she doesn’t know what she’d do without us. That is a driving force for anyone to get involved.”

The backpacks will be available to any child in need, without any paperwork or qualifications necessary. For those who do not live near the distribution sites in and around Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and Pierre, resources are available through the USDA’s “Meal for Kids” program.