Facing the challenge of keeping kids fed during the school year

Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 9:04 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - September is recognized as Hunger Action Month and Friday is the nationwide Hunger Action Day.

Food insecurity and hunger are affecting more families than before. One of the most impacted demographics is children, and organizations like the Brookings Backpack Project and Feeding South Dakota are calling for more volunteers and donations to address those needs.

According to the USDA, 34 million people in the US don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

“Hunger exists in every county in South Dakota and that can be quite shocking because it’s not something we would expect in our state or in our nation. However, it could be the person next door. It could be the child that is sitting next to your child in school,” said Marketing and Communications Director for Feeding South Dakota, Stacey Andernacht.

Kids are hit hard in South Dakota. In 2009, Brookings residents recognized this need, and the Brookings Backpack Project was created. One kid for every nine in South Dakota faces huger. The need is so great now, that Feeding South Dakota and their partners have already sent out nearly 2,500 backpacks of food per week. This past week alone, the Brookings Backpack Project packed a record 505 bags of food for students.

“No matter what’s going on in our world and no matter what is going on in people’s homes, children do need to eat,” said Executive Director of the Brookings Backpack Project, Cathy Ching. “They need nutrition. The shelving behind me was full last night. We packed bags last night and it’s empty again.”

The Brookings Backpack Project has moved 7 times in its existence, most recently moving to the Brookings United Way building. The decision to move was made to have a location more accessible to the students they provide food to.

Providing food for those in need is a challenge with rising costs, specifically providing foods with high nutritional value is even more challenging.

“Typically when somebody is tightening their budget and especially when it comes to food, they’re going to choose to not buy items that are of high nutritional value,” Andernacht explained. “72 percent of the food that we have distributed in South Dakota are what we call ‘foods to encourage a healthy diet.’ We want everybody to have access to those foods.”

These organizations hope to one day work themselves out of a job. They hope this Hunger Action Month is one step towards ending food insecurity in the region.

“The ideal would be that we didn’t have to do the program anymore, that people weren’t struggling with food,” Ching said. “With the help of the community, without that help, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”

If you are interested in volunteering or donating food or money to a local food bank near you, some options include:

If you donate financially to Feeding South Dakota this month, the Board of Directors will be matching all donations up to $50,000 this month.