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Falls children receive Blessings in a Backpack

New food program feeds hungry students

Kris Otzelberger (left), Dee Dee Ternes and Lisa Jackson organize 64 backpacks and bags to be fillled with food items for distribution to four elementary schools as part of the weekly Blessings in a Backpack program.

Kris Otzelberger (left), Dee Dee Ternes and Lisa Jackson organize 64 backpacks and bags to be fillled with food items for distribution to four elementary schools as part of the weekly Blessings in a Backpack program. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Nov. 25, 2013

Menomonee Falls — Blessings come in many sizes.

For Menomonee Falls elementary students, the blessings come in backpacks every Friday. At the start of the 2013-14 school year, Dee Dee Ternes and Lisa Jackson began a Menomonee Falls chapter of Blessings in a Backpack to help feed disadvantaged children in the village. The Kentucky-based national nonprofit organization provides underprivileged children with bags full of food every Friday so they have something to eat over the weekend.

Last week, Ternes and Jackson, alongside a handful of volunteers filled 64 backpacks with food that is easy for young children to make and eat, such as granola bars and oatmeal. They have done this every Thursday since school started. This week, the bags will be filled a little heavier so the students have enough food to last them the extended holiday weekend.

The local program is available to all elementary students who are have qualified for the federal free and reduced lunch program. There are 429 children in Falls schools who qualify, Ternes said. They are hoping as the program grows they have 100 percent participation and help the greatest number of children.

The number of students on the free and reduced lunch program has risen over the last decade. Of the School District population, 19.1 percent of students qualify; and 23.5 percent of elementary students qualify by meeting federal poverty guidelines.

"When (Ternes) brought this up and she brought the numbers to me of the kids in Menomonee Falls (on free and reduced lunch), I was floored," Jackson said.

After realizing the number of students in need in the district, Jackson said starting Blessings in a Backpack "was a no-brainer."

As part of the umbrella organization, Ternes said they have to spend $2.10 on food per child every week. Then, if they receive additional food donations, they can add extra food to each bag. With the help of a $1,000 donation from the Optimist Club, they have been able to fill the bags with quality food every week since September. The Falls Builder's Club recently held a food drive and donated goods to the Food Pantry and the Blessings in a Backpack program.

"There's no reason that we should have a kid going hungry in the United States," Ternes said. "The kids on the program, they have that one meal during the day and for a lot of them that's the only meal they get is their lunch so on the weekend when they're not at school, they don't get anything."

As the program grows, so will the need for donations.

Donations in the form of food or money are accepted at all Menomonee Falls schools. Checks should be made payable to Blessings in a Backpack. Donations can also be made online at blessingsinabackpack.org. Be sure to specify the donation is going to Menomonee Falls so that money can be used locally.

For information on the program, questions on donations or to volunteer, contact Ternes at (414) 213-7897 or letspassiton@aol.com.

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