Local organizations help feed children

LaDonna Ahrens, the director of First Fruits Food Distribution, displays some of what the program is able to offer families.

by Briana Sutherland
Contributing writer
School is out, and that means the risk for children missing meals increases dramatically because school meals aren’t readily available.
Various organizations around Elk River have noticed that problem and are finding ways to combat growling stomachs of school-aged children during summer break.
The Elk River Area School District has seen an increase of 250 students receiving free and reduced lunches over the past year. Parents or guardians can apply for meal benefits online or via a paper form available on the district Web site. Applications for the upcoming school year will be available in August.
“We encourage families to apply for benefits if they feel they may qualify. They can reapply later in the year if there is a change in their income status or household size. It is never too late to apply,” said Julee Miller, Sodexo general manager for the school district.

Breakfast, lunch being offered on Wednesdays
Central Lutheran Church in Elk River has organized a fresh food distribution and breakfast available to families every Wednesday beginning at 8 a.m. with the distribution beginning at 9 a.m. They focus on fresh fruit, vegetables and bread, as well as financial classes to educate people on topics such as money management, comparison shopping, checkbook balancing and soap making.

CAER volunteers like Mike Wasilewski, Joan Prochaska and Patty Lefebvre prepare the Kidz Kitz for the summertime program.

“We like to focus on people eating healthy, growing gardens and sharing with their neighbor,” said LaDonna Ahrens, coordinator for the program. “We feel like fresh vegetables, fruit and bread is our niche.”
There are no forms to fill out and no questions asked of any family who enters their doors. Each week varies on the number of families in attendance, but a typical week brings 50–60 families.
Breakfast is served to let families enjoy breakfast together and build relationships with other community members. Each family receives a number at the door and numbers are called to receive their food in the 9 o’clock hour.
The Women of Today is a partner that provides the bread and bakery items from local grocers. A wholesale produce company in Minneapolis provides the fresh fruit and vegetables each week. Local gardeners also bring in their excess to share, which gives a new surprise for people to bring home each week.
Anyone interested in volunteering or donating may call Ahrens at 441-0940.
Central Lutheran Church also provides a free, healthful lunch to children up to 18 years old each Wednesday from 11 a.m. to noon.
This is the first year the summer food program has been available in Sherburne County. It is currently active in the Elk River and Big Lake communities. This is a federal program managed by the state and run in local communities through an extensive application process.
Physical activities such as group games, obstacle courses and sports such as basketball and soccer are also offered to keep the children active during the summer.
“I’ve seen this run in other cities and have a passion for kids eating healthy,” said Alison Noble, director of the summer food program.
For questions or to get involved should call Nobel at 763-639-6486.

Kids Kitz back after successful launch
CAER food shelf in Elk River has also seen the need for meals specifically for children during the summer. After receiving a large amount of positive feedback from last summer they launched their second summer of providing Kidz Kitz this month to families in Elk River, Otsego and Zimmerman. Kidz Kitz are breakfast, lunch and snack items to feed a child for a week. They can contain items such as cereal, juice, milk, treats, crackers and other various items.
“They are kid-friendly-type items that are easy for them to cook and are nutritious,” said Jenny Gray, food shelf director. “We think this program this summer is going to start with a bang.”
During their first week of providing Kidz Kitz they distributed 118 Kidz Kitz totaling 2,705 pounds of food.
Last summer CAER saw an average of 258 Kidz Kitz go to families during the summer with the numbers increasing each week. This year they expect an increase in the numbers from last year as more people become aware of this option.
“With the possibility of a government shutdown, and families possibly losing the assistance they receive, CAER may experience an even greater demand for service,” Gray said.
Anyone interested in helping CAER can make cash donations online or directly at their location at 19279 Watson St. N.W., Elk River.
Volunteers play a huge role in assembling the kits. Teams of six to eight people in middle school or above interested in volunteering to pack Kidz Kitz can call CAER at 763-441-1020 to schedule a time.

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