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Packing for the Weekend grows as it provides missing meals to students, families

In January 2011, United Way started Packing for the Weekend at Sunnyside School in Red Wing. Today, it reaches across several school districts. 

The program helps provide children with food for the weekend by filling backpacks to the top for each student and their family. Packing for the Weekend is currently sponsored in Red Wing, Goodhue County Education District, Lake City, Cannon Falls, Zumbrota, Goodhue and Wabasha. That equates to 250 children getting backpacks full of meals each Friday.

“Other backpack programs fill their backpacks with little, kid-friendly meals. In doing our research we found out that the child doesn’t always get the food,” said Maureen Nelson, executive director of United Way of Goodhue Wabasha and Pierce Counties.

By providing bags filled with tuna, granola bars, macaroni and dried fruit, children are able to bring home enough food for them and their family to make it through the weekend. Each bag is donated by Bic in Red Wing and United Way has a strong relationship with Channel One Food Bank, where the agency can purchase food items at a lower price than from a grocery store.

But why is food so important, especially for these children? Teachers and faculty have noticed that after the Packing for the Weekend started, attendance has been better, especially before the weekend when the bags are given out.

“Reports from teachers say there’s less absenteeism on Friday because they’re getting the food and they don’t want to miss it, and on Monday because they’ve been fed,” Nelson said.

Not only does hunger affect the children coming to school, it affects how they perform academically as well. The anticipated outcomes of the program for children focuses on providing needed nutrition, improving attention spans, easing anxieties, raising academic performance and increasing self esteem.

In the 2014-2015 school year, United Way was able to give out 58,623 missing meals. The program currently helps 120 families in Red Wing.

The process at school begins with the teacher.

“Schools send the initial letter home. This is not ‘fill out a form, you have to qualify,’ this is ‘you think you need it, fill out the form,’” Nelson said. “The social workers kind of make sure families that are in great need know get on the list. We are limited to 30 families per school.”

Whether people realize it or not, poverty is an issue in Red Wing.

The city is now at an 11 percent poverty level. Poverty and performance have a distinct correlation, especially at a young age.

“You can go around Red Wing and see it’s a beautiful charming city, we don’t have slums. It’s hard to identify who’s exactly in poverty,” Nelson said. “Poverty has changed. It’s working people with two incomes who are still living below that poverty line. It’s out there, but if you choose not to see it, you can ignore it. Our job is to not let people ignore it.”

United Way staff and board members hope that in the future the program will continue to provide healthy meals for families in need, not only in Red Wing but in neighboring cities as well. Their goal is to add fresh fruit and vegetables to the bags each weekend.

The program receives help with donations throughout the community, plus committed support from Red Wing Shoe, Xcel Energy, First Lutheran and Associated Bank.

Money donations or non-perishable items are always welcome to help Packing for the Weekend. For more information visit United Way’s website

Kit Murray

Kit Murray joined Red Wing Republican Eagle in Aug. 2016, covering government, transportation and public safety. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in photojournalism and philosophy. 

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