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New school program will target weekend hunger

School lunches have never been known for their culinary excellence, but for many students they’re the best option around. Going home for the weekend means there might not be a hot lunch — or any lunch — on the table for a couple of days.

It’s a problem that’s not always easy to see, but it can have a noticeable impact on a student’s ability to perform in the classroom.

“They’re not getting their meal from school over the weekend and they’re coming to school hungry and therefore they’re not able to really focus on school,” said Khia Brown, community education director for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District.

Now, with a little help from the community, the district hopes to help students stop worrying about where they’ll get their weekend meals. Starting this fall, the district will partner with The Sheridan Story, a Minneapolis-based organization that assembles bags of food for students to take home on Friday afternoons.

The Sheridan Story, started in 2010 at North Minneapolis’ Sheridan Elementary School and hopes to be in 65 schools when the school year starts. The group packs bags each week with canned fruits and vegetables, canned proteins and grains and a few other staples. Churches and community groups partner with a school and pay $130 per student to fund the program for a year.

The district’s involvement with The Sheridan Story started two years ago when teachers at Greenleaf Elementary School in Apple Valley started noticing kids stuffing their pockets with food on Friday afternoons. They pooled their money for a snack program that year and bought granola bars and other items for the students. But the program was expensive and labor-intensive.

The school partnered with The Sheridan Story the next year, and things went well enough that executive director Rob Williams hopes to bring the program to every district elementary school this year.

Williams said schools where The Sheridan Story’s food program is in place have seen improvements in test scores and classroom behavior.

“The kids feel better about themselves,” he said. “They don’t have to worry about food.”

Because The Sheridan Story does not receive federal funding, it is available to all students, not just those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Brown held a meeting earlier this year with churches in the district to get things moving. As of last week, there were sponsors in place for eight of the district’s 18 elementary schools and one middle school.

Rosemount Elementary School already has a similar program in place.

Rosemount Rotary has stepped forward to sponsor Shannon Park Elementary School, offering to pay for up to 10 students there to receive food each week. That is the estimated participation at the school.

Rotary president Jason Lindahl said the club had talked for a while about finding a way to address hunger needs in the community. When one of the club members saw a Sheridan Story presentation, he brought the program to the rest of the club.

“We liked that there was a focus on addressing this issue in particular, because it’s something our club has been hearing about for a while,” Lindahl said. “We liked that there was an established relationship with the school district already and a track record for this particular organization.”

Shannon Park social worker Jim Simony is excited to have the program in place. While participation at the school is expected to be lower than at other district schools — 50 students participated last year at Greenleaf — he still sees a need.

Simony calls 10 students a soft number for the school.

“I would be joyful if the number was higher. Not so much that there is a demonstrated need but that people feel comfortable enough with us (to ask for help),” he said. “We believe it’s going to give a sense of calmness and increased achievement as a result.”

The Sheridan Story is still looking for sponsors for other schools. For information call Brown at 651-423-7720.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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