The Weekend Food Program is serving nearly 70 percent more students in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District since schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We used to serve 190 kids per week, and now we’re serving 320,” explained Stephanie Mueller, Education Foundation treasurer and Weekend Food Program volunteer.
The free program involves volunteers filling backpacks of snacks and small meals for MCPASD students in need each Friday, with school social workers coordinating distribution. It’s a partnership between the district and five local churches: St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, St. Bernard Catholic Church, St. Martin’s Lutheran Church, Middleton Community Church and West Middleton Lutheran Church.
The need is expected to continue increasing in the district, where 18 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch.
“As our weeks continue under the Safer at Home orders and families are starting to feel the COVID-19 financial pinch, we are recognizing an increased need for basic essentials, like personal hygiene items,” said Paley Nordlof, MCPASD school social worker.
Before COVID-19, the program served students at the district’s six elementary schools, Glacier Creek Middle School and the Middleton Youth Center, where Kromrey students can attend after school.
“Since March, we have opened the program up to serve K-12 students along with adding an additional 70 food bags based on the increased need for meals on the weekend,” Nordlof said.
The Education Foundation raised $51,000 in March and April to help provide meals and hygiene items for district students in need, yet funds aren’t stretching as far as they used to. In addition to serving more students, the Weekend Food Program had to switch to purchasing food items from retail suppliers, which is more expensive.
“One of our partners who supplies a major portion of our food items, Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin, has ceased providing weekend bag food items,” Nordlof said.
With Second Harvest focused on supplying food to families in Dane and neighboring counties, the Weekend Food Program is turning to joint partnerships with Woodman’s, Costco and other retailers to purchase food items. Nordlof said she appreciates how these partnerships have allowed the program to continue.
Other changes for the program involve operating with new safety precautions due to COVID-19, including using fewer volunteers to shop for and pack food.
“Our staff members are continuing to practice social distancing when distributing weekend food bags and thorough hand-washing,” Nordlof said. “In addition, the district has ensured that staff members have access to PPE at the meal distribution sites and are encouraging students, families and staff to follow the CDC guidelines.”
District staff and church volunteers’ commitment is crucial to the program.
“The Weekend Food Program is thankful for our staff members, especially the school social workers, nutrition staff, and transportation staff for continued coordination and distribution of the weekend food bags,” Nordlof said.
“They are caring for and feeding hundreds of kids every weekday, making lunches and breakfasts, driving school buses into neighborhoods and bringing food within reach of our kids,” added Mueller. “It’s food, but it’s also routine, friendly adults and a tiny part of their old normal.”
Deanna Heise has volunteered with St. Luke’s Lutheran Church for three years, shopping for items and packing bags of food to distribute.
“I wanted to be even just a small part of trying to make food more accessible to families experiencing food insecurity,” she said.
This fall, organizers would like to expand the program to Kromrey Middle School, Middleton High School, Clark Street Community School and the new Pope Farm elementary school.
“We need a few more organizations, faith-based or otherwise, to underwrite each of those schools, to help raise funds and bag and deliver each Friday during the school year,” Mueller said. “The current churches will help set you up, seed your funding and get you rolling!”
To donate to the Weekend Food Program online, click here and select “Meals for Kids During School Closure” to designate a donation.
For other ways to get involved with the program, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.