By Anna Jauhola
Throughout the school year, children receive help with hunger through the Backpack Program at all three Kittson County schools. Public Health Nurse Shunay Soliah heads up the program.
“It’s offered as a partnership between the schools, Cornerstone Food Pantry and North Country Food Bank,” Soliah said. “Throughout the school year, we deliver these meals to students at the schools for the weekends.”
While numbers fluctuate each year, Soliah said there are 45 kids signed up for the program. The Backpack Program provides nonperishable food items for kids each Friday. In a plain plastic zipper bag, they may receive items like cereal, macaroni and cheese, soup, applesauce, Mandarin oranges, juice and a mix of other items.
Soliah is also the school nurse at Kittson Central School in Hallock. She said staff distributes the bags while students are in class. Each Friday, she brings the bags she’s prepared to Lancaster School and Tri-County School in Karlstad.
Typically, students are signed up for the program at the beginning of the school year. Letters are sent out to parents in the beginning of school packets. However, that does not limit students from signing up later on.
“If a teacher notices maybe a student voices the need for something over the weekend, we can get them signed up,” Soliah said. “It’s not a one-time deal at the beginning of the school year.”
North Country Food Bank, located in East Grand Forks, supplies the food for this program. Soliah said they deliver to Cornerstone Food Bank in Hallock once a month.
National statistics show that one in six Americans struggle with hunger, that includes people in Kittson County, Soliah said. This program is one way to help friends and neighbors.
“It’s an easy way to make sure kids in our community are fed over the weekend when it’s difficult for families to supply that for them,” Soliah said. “Maybe kids stay home alone because families work. This is just a beneficial program for kids, making sure they’re well-fed and taken care of over the weekend when they’re not in school.”
By Anna Jauhola