By Bruce Karnick [email protected] The United Way of Hastings runs many programs, one of those is the Food 4 Kids Program. Food 4 Kids helps feed school aged kids on the weekends where they do …
By Bruce Karnick
The United Way of Hastings runs many programs, one of those is the Food 4 Kids Program. Food 4 Kids helps feed school aged kids on the weekends where they do not have enough to eat. United Way of Hastings (UWH) researched the need locally and through discussions with school representatives and social workers determined that some Hastings schoolchildren eligible for free/reduced lunches were coming to school hungry on Monday mornings. Students were feeling ill, having difficulty concentrating, and unable to focus in the classroom. Students have even discussed with their councilors how they don’t want to go home for the weekends because there is not enough food to eat. Yes, this is happening right here in Hastings.
A little history of the program.
In the fall of 2015, UWH conducted a pilot program serving a total of 40 children from October – February (22 weekends). Social workers, and school family support personnel identified and registered the students in the program. Discretion and confidentiality were assured as students received bags of food in their backpacks for themselves and any siblings in the home. UWH provided initial funding of $2,000 to purchase food and supplies and cover administrative costs. During the post-pilot evaluation phase, it was determined there was enough of a need in the school district to officially launch the program (rebranded as Food 4 Kids) for the 2016-17 school year. Food 4 Kid deliveries were made each week to the Hastings Middle School, Kennedy, McAuliffe, and Pinecrest.
The 2017/18 school year began with distribution of 70 weekend meals per week and grew to 136 by the end of the school year.
The 2018/19 school year averaged 140 bags distributed each we and the program expanded to cover Early Childhood Education / Preschool Students.
Summer 2019 – Program continued distribution in the summer with the SPARK program.
2019-20 – Program expanded to include the Hastings High School and a total of 4,366 Food 4 Kids weekend meals were distributed.
2020-21 School year and COVID have brought additional challenges for the program. Previously, the bags of food were distributed through schools. With kids not being in school, that has added extra work. Additionally, with the extra folks in town that are either under employed or unemployed, the program has expanded to help additional kids. Some weeks are close to 200 bags delivered.
With the additional food going out, there needs to be additional food coming in. Brian and Mary Schommer of Schommer insurance stepped up to the plate to help. The Schommers hold various fundraising events throughout the year. Food drives for Hastings Family Service and Food 4 Kids are the food related ones, and they are also an authorized Toys for Tots collection site.
For the Food 4 Kids program, they started keeping track of items donated in 2019. For that year, they collected 3,155 individual items, 2020 they beat that with 3,281 items. They may have a hard time topping 2021 where they collected 5,630 individual food items. Brian is quick to point out they cannot do this without the support of their awesome customers and the other amazing businesses in Hastings.
This year they received help from Rob McCallum Family Farm, Mayor Mary Fasbender, Midstate Plumbing and Heating, The Hastings Journal, Eileen’s Hair Design, Gahnz Furniture, Downtown Tire and Auto, Unlimited Chiropractic, Axia Home Loans – Craig Beissel and many generous individual donors.
As the saying goes, many hands make light work, and on the day of delivering the food, that was the case as well. Rob McCallum provided a monstrous trailer to make the delivery in and volunteers met at the Schommer Insurance office to load. Brian and Mary were there, assisted in loading by Dawn Neisus, Matt Schacht, Bruce Karnick, Nikki Haas, Mike Slavik, Jim Weinzettel, and United Way’s Amy Schaffer, who tried so desperately not to cry happy tears from all the support.
Loading the trailer is only half the battle, so the volunteers headed on down to the UWH office on second street where Mari Mellick was anxiously awaiting their arrival.
After the food was tallied up, Schaffer thanked the Schommers for their help. “What an AMAZING DAY! Our shelves have 243 bags packed and ready for delivery on Tuesday and we have a TON of items yet to pack! Thank you for making a difference in the lives of SO many children in Hastings!! Forever Grateful!”
The next planned Food 4 Kids event that is known to the Journal is July 16th with the Hastings Hawks hosting. Yes, Rivertown Days. Every normal year, the Hastings Hawks host two games at Veterans Park during Rivertown Days, the event is called the River Rumble. A youth team from Prescott Wisconsin plays their counterpart from Hastings at 5:00 and the Hawks take on the Prescott Pirates at 8:00 in a field double header on the Friday of Rivertown Days. COVID stopped last year’s event so this year needs to be twice as big as 2019’s where the teams and their fans managed to gather $1500 worth of food and cash donations to help the Food 4 Kids program.
Details of that event are still being worked out. The first year there were small raffle items with tickets available at the game and a third competition between Prescott and Hastings was added that of ‘who could gather the most food’. Coborn’s and Ptacek’s grocery stores were amazing partners in each town putting together $10 bags of food fans could buy and bring to the field. The hope is to get a repeat performance this year. If you would like to donate to that, contact [email protected]
If you would like to donate to the Food 4 Kids program on your own, contact the United Way of Hastings to learn how.
Brian Schommer, Rob McCallum, Nikki Haas, Matt Schacht, Mari Mellick and Amy Schafer stand behind the pile of Food 4 Kids gathered by Schommer Insurance over the course of a month. Photo by Bruce Karnick