by Cori Hilsgen
The Colt Action Packs program, a new outreach program at Kennedy Community School, recently completed its first year. The program, funded entirely by donations and grants, distributed food to an average of 35 students each week during the school year as well as an additional bag during school breaks.
Hoping to help support students’ health, behavior and achievement, nonperishable food items were provided each weekend during the school year to help bridge a gap that can occur when food is less available in the home during the weekend.
The packs included foods such as Nutri-Grain bars, oatmeal, soup, macaroni and cheese, applesauce, fruit snacks, beef jerky, popcorn, crackers and pudding. One fruit, donated by a community member, was also usually included.
The food bags were placed in students’ backpacks confidentially before or after school when students were not around.
The cost of each Colt Action Pack came to about $3.50 or $135.00-$150.00 for each student recipient during the school year.
Staff at Kennedy Community School provided a room for assembling the bags and storing them before distribution. Other donations to the program included donations of money, time, food and food at reduced cost from seven individuals; four businesses (Craig Hiltner/VoigtJohnson Real Estate, Kwik Trip, Coborn’s-St. Joseph and Minnesota Street Market, Food and Art Coop); three local organizations (American Legion Post 328, Knights of Columbus and Resurrection Lutheran Church); and grants from Stearns Electric Association and Thrivent Financial.
The Colt Action Packs program began as a pilot program in the spring of 2017 and expanded to a weekly program throughout the 2017-2018 school year.
Minnesota Catholic Worker Molly Weyrens and members of The Partnership were involved with getting the program started. The Partnership is a group in St. Joseph that works to connect resources to needs in the area.
Nancy Holden and Sara Borgen, two Partnership volunteers, worked with Kennedy licensed school counselor Amy O’Hare and Kennedy masters-level school counselor intern Dana Thomsen to collaborate the program.
Kennedy Student Ambassador student leaders helped pack the bags of food which were distributed each week.
The Student Ambassadors were a new group at Kennedy this past year. Their main purpose was to help orientate new students at Kennedy, but they also chose to be involved in the monthly food-packing assembly line for the Colt Action Packs.
Holden said well-nourished students are usually able to perform better in school.
“With local donors, community volunteers, student and school staff involvement, the Colt Action Packs is truly a community project,” Holden said.
“What I love about this program is once again it shows how a few people can have a large and lasting impact on another group’s well-being,” Weyrens said.”To have people in a town not be able to provide food for their family is something that should concern everyone. We are so grateful for those who have been willing to help us in this endeavor and look forward to more community partners as we go.”
Weyrens said organizers are very impressed and grateful for the great staff at Kennedy school, especially O’Hare, who has been great about connecting and helping to organize these efforts.
“Along with adults, there has also been a great group of students involved in helping to pack each bag,” Weyrens said. “This allows them to get a better sense of the struggle their classmates face and see ways in which they can help. It all begins with awareness and then we can hopefully teach people to move toward action.”
Kennedy Principal Laurie Putnam said the school has 834 students in kindergarten through eighth-grade, and 35.2 percent or 281 students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.
“The Colts Action Pack program lets students from food-insecure households have consistent meals during the weekends,” Putnam said. “Many from our community have given time, food and money to make this program possible. On behalf of the students and staff at Kennedy, I extend my sincere thanks to these people. We are so fortunate to be part of such a generous and kind community.”
Parents are informed about Colt Action Packs through family electronic school e-mail, Kennedy home page, and the information is handed out at open houses and conferences. Families are then able to choose if they want to participate in the program or not. Participation is voluntary and confidential.
The Colt Action Packs program is modeled after the Rocori Action Packs program. It is similar to other backpack programs throughout the area and is intended to help meet the growing need for additional food for children in families struggling with food insecurity and food scarcity in their homes.
Future plans for the Kennedy program are to expand the program to include more children as needs are identified and resources become available.
To volunteer or donate for the program, contact Central Minnesota Catholic Worker by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at P.O. Box 94, St. Joseph, Minn. 56374. The contact person at Kennedy Community School is O’Hare, 320-363-7791 ext. 6582 or email@example.com.