Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

District provides blessings in way of weekend meal to students

WORLAND — For the past year and a half Washakie County School District No. 1 has been involved with Blessings in a Backpack Program to help feed hungry students during the weekend.

According to the website, “Blessings in a Backpack is celebrating a decade of feeding kids on the weekends. Blessings is a national front-runner in the fight against childhood hunger.”

The program “provides food for elementary school children in America who might otherwise go hungry by sending them home with a backpack full of food on the weekends.”

District federal programs fiscal officer and secretary to district superintendent Melissa Hefenieder said that the district was contacted in the fall 2017 by Blessings in a Backpack representatives wanting to bring the program to Worland. She said through the Larry and Susan Patrick Foundation they obtained a grant to get the program started.

The program officially rolled out in the district February 2018 and that spring they served about 40 students, mostly from the elementary, but they have also reached out to hungry middle school and high school students.

This year, with a renewal of the grant from the Patrick Foundation, they have been able to feed 98 students each week.

Hefenieder said they were blessed to get additional grant funding for the second year, and they have also been blessed with donations from individuals and organizations. Most recently they received funding from the Worland Rotary ($1,000) and Born Again Clothing and St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.

Superintendent David Nicholas said, “As word gets out we’ve run into people who want to give to the program.”

Every Friday, the pre-packaged, kid-friendly, kid-safe meals are given to the students discreetly. Hefenieder said the food does have nutritional requirements, are easy to open and do not require heating or cooking.

Hefenieder and Nicholas said each school handles the program differently in how to give the students their weekend meal privately. This year, with the help of donations, they have also been able to add fresh fruit to the backpack blessings offered.

Nicholas said, “Each principal does it differently, based on the culture at their school.”

Nicholas said continuing a program like Blessings In A Backpack “takes leadership and organization. Melissa has provided that in our district. She has a passion for this.”

Hefenieder added “There are so many who give wholehearted to this,” noting the school administrative assistant, teachers and paraeducators assist with the program at each school. She said the facilities manager has helped in making room to store the meals.

Nicholas added that Friday after school staff donate their time to help with the program.

Hefenieder said there are a number of reasons students may be hungry — poverty, economy, unstable home environment.

“They lack the basic things that students need to learn. This is just an accountable place that we can as staff, draw on to help meet the needs of those children so they can focus, so they can learn, so they know that they are loved. We have an amazing community and an amazing community of strong students,” Hefenieder said.

While Blessings in a Backpack help meet the hunger needs of the district students, another district-only program is helping meet other needs of students.

In January 2018, a Battle of the Buildings event raised funds to help students with medical needs or other needs such as purchasing eye glasses.

Hefenieder said both the Battle of the Buildings fund and Blessings in a Backpack program has “raised an awareness in our community, and our community has just poured out to our students in need.”

Nicholas added that meeting the basic needs of the students, including hunger, help them learn.

“If you’re hungry you can’t learn. You have to have your basic needs met in order to learn. We want to make these kids whole and allow them to be successful in the classroom. Our ultimate goal is all the same, k-12, we need kids to leave here career or college ready,” Nicholas said.

Hefenieder said both programs meet one of the Rachel’s Challenges – providing an act of kindness.

Nicholas added, “Once you get a start you can start to dream. It’s hard to dream big when you’re hungry. It’s hard to be positive when you’re hungry.”