Snack pack program receives funds, continues to aid local children

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Several local ladies, including (left) Laura Nozal, Jackie Lamb, Kathryn Starkey, Darlene Wilker, Bona Dean Feller and Deb Moon, helped fill snack packs for MFL MarMac elementary students last week at Living Faith United Methodist Church in McGregor. The snack packs are distributed confidentially, before each weekend, to students in need, to supplement food received at home. Moon recently received a $250 grant through Thrivent to purchase additional groceries for the program. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Kathryn Starkey fills a snack pack, which is the size of a Ziploc bag, with juice boxes and apple sauce. Other items added to the packs include cereal, mac and cheese, crackers, pudding cups and fruit snacks.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

With the help of some local church volunteers, area kids in need are getting “snack packs” of food to tide them over during weekends away from the school’s regularly-provided meals.

Snack pack distribution began in 2009, kickstarted by Bona Dean Feller, who, the year prior, attended a United Methodist Celebrate Women Day in Texas, where a presentation was given on a similar program. Upon returning home, she contacted MFL MarMac elementary principal Kathy Koether and Mary Kleve, who was the guidance counselor at that time, to learn if a local program was needed.

It was, with 12 students immediately identified who could benefit from receiving supplemental weekend food.

Feller, a Marquette resident and member of McGregor’s Living Faith United Methodist Church, then brought the idea to the church’s women’s group, who gave their support. They, in turn, brought the program before parishioners at Living Faith’s three churches in McGregor, Giard and Monona, asking members to sponsor one child for the school year for $175. By the first week of September, they already had sponsors for 12 students. That year, the number grew to 16.

In the years since, said Feller, support for the snack pack program has grown.

Funding for the program initially came from just the United Methodist Churches, she said, with ladies from the church volunteering to assemble the snack packs in gallon Ziploc bags. Donations now come from throughout the district, as well, via other churches, businesses, 4-H clubs and individuals.

The snack packs contain items like cereal, fruit snacks, cheesy crackers, puddings cups, apple sauce, juice boxes, granola bars and macaroni and cheese. Groceries are ordered through the Northeast Iowa Food Bank by Utoni Ruff, director of the Clayton County Food Shelf.

Feller said the food list hasn’t changed much over the years, with the main dish being one of the exceptions.

“We originally had Vienna sausages, but the kids didn’t like it,” she said. That’s now been replaced with more kid-approved dishes, like mac and cheese.

The snack pack program recently received a financial boost, as Deb Moon, of Luana, applied for and received a $250 community action card through Thrivent Financial, which she gave to the program for the purchase of food and Ziploc bags.

Moon said Thrivent members can apply for the cards twice each year, to use toward community projects or fundraisers. She encourages others to look into it by contacting a Thrivent agent or going to the Thrivent website.

While support for the program has increased over the years, so has the demand among local kids. Last week, a half-dozen volunteers, gathered at the United Methodist Church in McGregor, made enough snack packs for 30 kids in junior kindergarten through third grade.

The number peaked last February, Feller said, when the ladies assembled around 45. That number could again be reached this school year, said Koether.

“Forty-five students were invited, but we haven’t heard from all the families,” Koether noted. “It takes a little while to get up and going, and they have the right to not accept.”

Koether, with the help of current guidance counselor Kurt Gaylor, identified the students in need. They are the only two in charge of distribution, which is done before each weekend, when no students are around, allowing for confidentiality.

“It’s a great service and it’s really appreciated,” Koether said. “I don’t know how the ladies do all of it, getting the food, packing it up and bringing it to school.”

The ladies are happy to help.

“I’m glad the kids are getting food over the weekends, that their tummies are not empty,” said volunteer Laura Nozal. “It’s also good to know it’s going to Clayton County, and not far away.”

It’s a worthwhile cause, added Linda Munson. She is part of another group of ladies who have begun creating snack packs for fourth and fifth-grade students at the McGregor Center. The ladies come from First Lutheran, First Congregational and St. Mary’s Churches, which, along with Living Faith United Methodist Church, are part of McGregor’s Ecumenical Council.

“Helping in the community is one of the main goals of the Ecumenical Council,” Munson said. “Most people were surprised at the need. You don’t think about kids not having a lot to eat.”

A retired teacher, Feller said she doesn’t recall seeing such a need when she was in the classroom.

“But I’ve been retired 15 years, and there have been changes in the economy since then,” she said.

While the snack packs are meant to be supplementary to food received at home, and are not to feed whole families, Feller said she hopes they’ve impacted the students.

“When the bags leave here, we don’t know if they eat it all Friday night—we hope not—or if they use it over the whole weekend,” she stated. “We just hopes it makes a difference in kids’ lives.”

To support the program, checks can be written out to Living Faith United Methodist Church, with a designation to the snack pack fund. They can be sent to Kathryn Starkey, P.O. Box 83, Marquette, IA 52158.

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