An astonishing number of children are hungry in Dane County and a Sun Prairie elementary school is just one example of a place making an effort to feed kids who have nowhere else to turn.
For many kids, the food you bag up is the lunch you bring to school, but for 57 percent of students at Sun Prairie’s Westside Elementary, school is the place you get food, not bring it.
“We know many of them get breakfast or lunch at school, and for some of them, those are the only meals that they get each day,” Westside Elementary Principal Rick Mueller said.
So every Friday, an assembly line of volunteers pack up donated snacks so those with empty pantries have something over the weekend.
“We actually have children who leave our school and sleep in a car at night,” Mueller said. “In Dane County, that’s real, and I know our school is not the only one.”
Mueller has watched the program triple in the last two years.
“When we think about this food, making sure that it’s easy to open, easy to eat, that’s meeting a very real need,” Mueller said. “Even with all of these programs in place, we’re still seeing tremendous need.”
There are no requirements to sign up for a snack bag. Mueller said that takes away some of the stigma of taking one home.
“The fastest growing group of people we serve today are children,” said Dane Stein with Second Harvest Food Bank.
Second Harvest Food Bank feeds more than 60,000 children across southwest Wisconsin -- 43 percent of everyone they serve. Then there’s a ripple effect at home.
“We find many adults who skip meals in order for their kids to eat, and that doesn’t help either,” Stein said.
The snack bags help students listen to their teachers instead of their growling stomachs, and try to make weekends something to look forward to.
“If we can take that burden off of teachers and help families with programs like this, everyone is going to win,” Mueller said.
The program at Westside Elementary almost went under when an anonymous private donor could no longer support it through the Goodman Center. The Sun Prairie Food Pantry was able to step up and fill that need.
Mueller is hoping to expand the program and create a community of schools to serve hungry families in his area 24-7.