Menomonee Falls — One out of five. That's almost how many elementary school children in the Menomonee Falls School District leave school Friday afternoon, not knowing for certain where their next meal will come from. But all that is changing if Dee Dee Ternes and her Blessings in a Backpack team have anything to say about it.
Last year it was just an idea. Ternes was inspired by an article she read in People Magazine featuring a young boy and his mother who benefited from the Blessings in a Backpack program in their hometown.
"I've always had a passion for helping those less fortunate than myself, and (Blessings in a Backpack) seemed like the perfect way to do it," said Ternes, who organized the local chapter of the program last October.
The program is designed to feed elementary school children whose families qualify for the federal Free and Reduced Price Meal program through their school district.
"Many of these kids have little or no food on the weekends," Ternes said, "so Blessings in a Backpack is all about doing what we can to ensure they have something healthy and nutritional to take home with them every Friday."
While she figured there would be plenty of local families in need of such assistance, Ternes said the reality of the numbers was surprising.
"The need was startling," said Ternes. "It was a lot higher a number than I would have expected."
A shocking 430 children qualify for the Free and Reduced Price Meal program in Menomonee Falls, which is why their fundraising efforts are so important, said BIB volunteer Dan Schwind.
Feeding the hungry
"We are part of a national organization, but this program and all the money we raise goes directly back into feeding hungry children right here in Menomonee Falls," said Schwind. "It's definitely something I don't think a lot of people in Menomonee Falls are aware is even a problem."
Currently, the group has done the fundraising necessary to provide backpacks to 87 children on a weekly basis. About a dozen volunteers get together every Thursday at the Menomonee Falls Community Center to pack up the backpacks, which are donated by the program to ensure 100 percent of the money raised goes right back into the mouths of children.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the local Blessings in a Backpack crew are concerned. At a commitment of $80 per child for a 38-week school year, the group has set a goal to raise enough money to support all 430 children, equal to about 23 percent of elementary school students in Menomonee Falls, who are eligible for the program.
"We want to feed as many of the families in need as we can," said Schwind, who pointed to the upcoming Glow Run as a way the community can get involved with the efforts. "The date is set and all we need now are walkers and runners who want to make a difference and have fun while doing it."
Located at the Menomonee Falls High School stadium, the event will feature party zones, and participants are encouraged to sport all their best neon fashions.
It takes place August 23 at the stadium, N8101 Merrimac Drive.
"To a lot of us, $2.20 doesn't sound like a lot," said Schwind, "but that weekly blessing in a backpack is making one less child go hungry right here in our community and that means the world to us."
BY THE NUMBERS
students currently served by Blessings in a Backpack
elementary students on the free and reduced lunch program
amount per child per week for putting together a backpack
volunteers currently involved with Blessings in a Backpack
fundraising goal for 2014-15 school year
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