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The program is completely confidential and participating families are referred by the school counselors.

Backpack Program serves more than ever

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education River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

What started five years ago at Rock Elementary School has expanded into the Hudson Backpack Program that now serves students and their families from all Hudson's elementary schools, both public and private. Some 108 families were served last year with 1,836 backpacks delivered during the school year.

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The idea of the program is to provide backpacks filled with food twice a month on Fridays so children and their families who need it have food over the weekend. In addition to non-perishable items like cereal, peanut butter and other food, the families also receive vouchers for items like bread, milk and eggs.

The program is completely confidential and participating families are referred by the school counselors. Each Hudson school is partnered with one or two churches that provide the food for the families in their school through food donations provided by church members or cash donations. Members of the nine Hudson and Houlton participating churches take home a green bag on Sunday and return it the following week with the items requested.

The program is completely run by volunteers who make lists of the food needed and fill the backpacks for distribution. In addition to food donations, the program uses cash donations to purchase the vouchers from County Market which has been a supporter of the program from the start. If enough funds are collected, the program has used the money to provide gift cards to families for the summer months. More than $4,800 worth of vouchers were purchased last year.

In addition to church and individual donations, the program has received support from the Sunrise Lions Club, Youth Action Hudson, the Empty Bowls Dinner, the ELCA Women, Wintergreen, the Lutheran Foundation and Denim for a Cause.

The backpacks are also used to send information home about area programs like Operation HELP and their Christmas campaign, the Sharing Tree school supplies program, a free dental program for children and other assistance programs in the area.

A survey to get feedback on the program from the families it serves was also sent home in the backpacks. According to coordinator Marg Wopat, it provided important information about how the program was working and what families needed.

Respondents were asked about the food choices, if they used the vouchers and where they shopped. They also provided comments like these from two River Crest families. "We greatly appreciate the help we have received. It helped us more than you know," and "It has been a big help for a family of five. The kids drink a lot of milk."

Donations can be sent payable to United Methodist Church, c/o Barb Chapman, 1401 Laurel Ave., Hudson, WI 54016. To volunteer, contact coordinator Marg Wopat at (651)270-1261 or at email mwopat@pressenter.com.

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