There are more than 200 students in Union public schools who are eligible for free school lunches.
But some of those students may go hungry during the weekend.
A new program to provide nutritious weekend meals is under way, and organizers now are trying to identify the children in need, as well as funding to expand the program.
Dave Sutton, the temporary chairperson of the program, said the Wildcat Foodpack Program kicked off it’s first week Friday, Sept. 13, by providing weekend meals for 18 children at Beaufort and Central Elementary schools.
On Friday, Sept. 20, the group expected to supply 20 children with meals — but that doesn’t scratch the surface of the children who may go hungry Saturdays and Sundays.
The program is available to children in kindergarten through the third grade.
Sutton said the program is anonymous and parents must OK their child’s participation.
Letters have been mailed to students who receive free lunches, but not many parents have responded.
“If people think they need this, then they need to contact their school guidance counselor,” he said.
As for now, the program started small, but plans call for expansion to more grade levels.
“We don’t know what kind of numbers we are facing, but we hope to expand,” said Sutton.
How It Works
Each Friday, bags with meals inside are placed in the child’s backpack, oftentimes while all of the students are at recess.
“We are trying to keep this as anonymous as possible,” said committee member Cristine Metts.
According to Metts, the bags include two of each breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Breakfast is oatmeal, cereal or a granola bar; lunches include crackers and items like Vienna sausages or macaroni and cheese; and dinner consists of soups, or pasta with meat.
Children also receive snacks, such as pudding, fruit cups or Jell-O, and juice and “shelf milk,” which does not require refrigeration.
All of the food is prepackaged.
To help fund the program, organizers have begun a pledge drive in which sponsors can make quarterly donations that will go toward weekend meals.
To take part in the pledge program, people may contact Larry Melton at 636-583-2013, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pledge forms have been sent to some residents, but committee members also will reach out to churches and civic organizations to distribute more forms.
Wildcat Foodpack Program representatives also will be at the Union Area Chamber of Commerce Market on Main in downtown Union Saturday, Oct. 5, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“This is a perpetual program,” said committee member Bill Martindale “There will always be hungry children and we are positive there will always be community support.”
The initial funding for the program was provided by Zion United Church of Christ, Union, with a $5,250 donation raised through its centennial celebration.
Since then, there has been $1,500 raised by committee members, including a $500 donation from the Union Lions Club.
Gary Young initially spearheaded the program, but handed the reins to a steering committee.
Martindale added that the Union Kiwanis Club already has contributed, and organizers expect to soon meet with the Union Rotary Club.
“We’re blessed to have this program,” he said.
The program is run through the Union R-XI Foundation, a tax-exempt fund-raising organization.
The tax-exempt status may land the group assistance from the St. Louis Food Bank, which can provide inexpensive food in bulk.
To help the program get under way, Sandy Crider, with Loving Hearts, donated a pallet of food.
A team of purchasers, including Metts, also used start-up funds to purchase food items.
Metts also coordinates what food is needed and where donations can be sought.
The committee also has relied on the help of the Union Wal-Mart, which donated bags to place the food in that is then given to students.
Tim Roewe with DAC Inc., Washington, donated 500 backpacks that will be given to any student who needs one.
The committee also has received help from the Union R-XI School District through the use of space, and meals are taken to Beaufort at the same time that mail is transported to the school.