Sharing Seeds partners with Every Meal to continue food program for local kids
"There are a ton of reasons for poverty. I don’t know how to solve any of those, but I do know how to solve hungry kids — and that will have a long-term effect on poverty.”
WORTHINGTON — Local nonprofit Sharing Seeds has already shifted strategies a few times in order to pursue its mission of providing food to local children in need, and its latest shift, partnering with Minnesota-based charity Every Meal, shows its continued commitment to that objective.
“We are so grateful for this opportunity,” said the Rev. Jeanette McCormick, of First Lutheran Church in Worthington. “It is much more sustainable, and it’s really wonderful that it is culturally-appropriate food items.”
Sharing Seeds had been packing and delivering food once a month, and every student who signed up for the program got the same bag of food, McCormick said. With rising food costs, more students were asking for food and feedback indicated that people had different dietary needs. Plus, school staff distributing the food found it was taking more and more time.
Marlys Wasmund of First Lutheran Church started doing research on potential partner organizations that could help, and came across Every Meal, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Roseville whose mission is to fight child hunger through filling food gaps kids face when they can’t get meals at school.
It was a great fit.
“The need in the Worthington and Adrian communities is very high,” said Rob Williams, president and founder of Every Meal. “It’s as high as I’ve ever seen in 12 years of doing backpack programs, in this community.”
Every Meal works in about 430 schools throughout Minnesota, across around 44 school districts, and the group sources the food itself, packs it, stores it and delivers it to schools. Partner groups in the local community and local schools, meanwhile, work to enroll kids in the program and raise donations to pay for the food. They also receive the food and then distribute it at the schools, bringing it to each classroom.
Rather than getting identical packages of food once a month, students receive food for each weekend, and they can sign up for one of five options according to their needs, too. Food can be tailored for people with East African dietary preferences, Latino, or Southeast Asian dietary preferences. Food can also consist of ready-to-eat items that don’t require preparation, or simply be designed to have a wide variety of food items.
“It’s four to five pounds of food, and two registered dietitians on staff build the menus,” Williams said, noting that there are at least four menus for each of the five food styles so that people don’t end up eating the same thing over and over again. “It’s all shelf-stable.”
The local community remains key to the effort, though.
“With the Every Meal model, different congregations are encouraged to be sponsoring congregations for various schools,” McCormick said.
First Lutheran sponsors Prairie Elementary, for example, and First United Methodist sponsors Worthington Middle School. American Lutheran sponsors the Intermediate School and Living Waters Covenant Church is storing food for St. Mary’s School. Food is also available for students in Head Start, Worthington High School and the Learning Center.
Sponsoring congregations also contribute financially to the program.
For the younger students, volunteers stop by the school Thursday to put the food bags into student lockers.
“All of us would love volunteer help, especially at Prairie Elementary — we have the highest number of kids enrolled. We would love some help distributing food,” McCormick said.
People are encouraged to volunteer as they can, whether that means every week, once a month, or even just once.
At this point, 39 students from Adrian are enrolled, as well as 44 at St. Mary’s and 632 in Worthington, which will cost around $172,000 for the food alone and a total of $207,000 when including deliveries and gas.
Each bag of food is valued at about $6, and it costs about $240 for each child per school year.
Sharing Seeds started working with Every Meal in October, and so far, the feedback has been very positive. People like the culture-specific food choices and volunteers are enjoying making a difference, McCormick said.
“I am really relieved. I could see that it was going to get very challenging for us to sustain the program,” she added.
Students can register for the program throughout the year.
“As a community and as people of faith, for many of us, we feel it is our collective responsibility to care for our kids. We know society is better when our children feel they are cared for and when they know where they are getting the next meal,” McCormick said.
“What we are focused on is ensuring kids have the food they need to learn and grow. If they are hungry and have a lack of nutrition it’s incredibly difficult to learn, and if they don’t have an opportunity to learn, when they grow up, it’s almost guaranteed that they’re going to be in poverty as well,” Williams said. “The main root cause of hunger is poverty. There are a ton of reasons for poverty. I don’t know how to solve any of those, but I do know how to solve hungry kids — and that will have a long-term effect on poverty.”
Anyone interested in giving to the program can write checks to First Lutheran Church, and be sure to put Sharing Seeds in the memo line so that it goes to the right place.
People can also give to Every Meal by sending a check to Every Meal, 2723 Patton Road, Roseville, MN 55113, or online at everymeal.org/give.