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Feeding hungry students: Dickinson school support staff to start supplemental food services

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In an effort to curb the effects of hunger on students at Dickinson Public Schools, a group of school social workers and counselors have taken it upon themselves to create a program that would send food home with children over the weekend and during breaks.

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The counselors and social workers, led by school social worker Kristin Seaks, met on Tuesday afternoon at The Brew in downtown Dickinson with church and charity leaders to move forward with plans to bring food to students in need.

DPS staff worries that some students only eat at school.

Once its foundation is set and in order to get an actual number of packs to send out, the group will send letters home with students of families that qualify for free or reduced lunch, although there may not be a food need in all of those households, said Lynelle Urlacher, school counselor for Berg Elementary. Inversely, there may be a food need in homes that do not qualify for free or reduced lunch, so social workers and counselors will pick the students in whom they see the most need.

There are more than 500 students on free and reduced lunch. Some families don’t qualify for free or reduced lunch because their income is too high, but their rent and other costs eat up so much money that the students are coming to school hungry, said Whitney Fong, school counselor at Roosevelt Elementary.

Those that don’t qualify for free or reduced lunch are allowed to run a deficit rather than go hungry, Fong said.

“The Dickinson Education Association teachers pick it up,” Urlacher said of some students’ school lunch tab. “Trust me, no kid goes hungry in school.”

Other school districts, like Fargo and Mandan, use the Great Plains Food Bank BackPack Program to provide non-perishable meals and snacks to children to eat over the weekend in homes where there may be a food need, Seaks said.

The group, which is not officially affiliated with Dickinson Public Schools, is in its early planning stages, but would like to begin distributing the packages as soon as possible. It hopes to fall under the umbrella of the 501(c)3 not-for-profit of St. John Lutheran Church, pending council approval. Glen Bruhschwein, a St. John church council member attending Tuesday’s meeting, thought the partnership would be approved.

“You’ve got a strong ally in St. John,” Bruhschwein said.

Pending board approval, the United Way of Dickinson may be able to provide some financial support, executive director Hollie Claiborne said.

On her own behalf, Claiborne wanted to drum up backing for the program through her church.

“I’ve struggled in the past — me and my kids — so I know how it is,” Claiborne said.

The pre-made Great Plains BackPacks contain non-perishable foods like cheese ravioli, breakfast cookies and apple juice; the Dickinson group may supplement the packs with fresh fruits and vegetables when available.

“We can’t compare it too homecooked meals,” Urlacher said.

But for many, the only alternative to eating the food from the packs is eating nothing, Fong said.

Call Seaks at 701-590-0134 for more information. 

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Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206
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