A grant from the Matt Davison Foundation will greatly help the Wilber-Clatonia Backpack Program.
The grant is for $2,500 and has been a tremendous opportunity to meet the needs of feeding youth at W-C, according to Mitch Novak, organizer of the program at Wilber-Clatonia.
"This is big. That is all I can say… just amazing," Novak said.
The Backpack Program is a program that takes donations to help buy food from the Lincoln Food Bank and puts food in a backpack for children to have for the weekend.
Right now the program is issuing 25 backpacks of food per week, which Novak said is the maximum number that can be afforded at this point and there are several students on a waiting list. The grant will help the program expand to 30 backpacks a week of nutritious food. Each backpack has a cost of $6.66 per week.
The goal for the year is $7,500 and right now Novak explained donations equal a little over $5,000. Donations are still needed and $2,500 for the rest of the year is needed and greatly appreciated, according to Novak.
Novak and a group of volunteers have been handing out contribution cards. Most notably at the Wilber-Clatonia homecoming game, over 275 contribution cards were given out for future gifts. The cards are pledges to donate funds to the program, allowing for Novak to budget for the year.
"The donation doesn’t have to be immediate, it can be over a year or into the next semester," Novak said of the cards.
Novak continues with trying to snag large donations from large companies and has been pounding the pavement to gain funds for the program.
"I am working with several large businesses in the area for some donations as well," Novak said.
K-LOVE radio out of Omaha did an interview with Novak about the program and its success and need in small schools.
The program started in January of this year and has already had an impact on the school district.
Feedback from the school has been ‘amazing,’ according to Novak and several groups at the school have volunteered to donate to the program or volunteer.
Some special needs students at Wilber-Clatonia have been involved with the program, keeping shelves stocked and packing each individual backpack. Life Skills program students, in upper elementary and lower high school grades, have been involved with the program and using skills used in the program to fulfill needs beyond the classroom.
Those students will learn accuracy, counting, putting multiple items in a correct order and other life skills.
Wilber-Clatonia Superintendent Ray Collins believes the program has had many benefits for these students.
"It is almost like a shopping list, going to the grocery store and making sure you get the right items in your shopping cart. It is truly a life skill activity," Collins said. "It also gives them a sense of helping
in the community and providing a vital service to the community, which is awesome."
"The program is educating and helping those in need," Novak said.
Collins believes the program has been a tremendous help to the district.
"The feedback I have received has been very positive," Collins said.
He explains that if a student is nutritionally sound and ready to learn and not distracted by hunger, then they can focus on the task at hand: education.
"I think there is a body of research out there that shows that if a student is hungry and worrying about their next meal, or anything for that matter, then they are not ready to learn. So, by having weekend meals, it is just one less worry students have, they will come more nutritionally ready to learn. That has to have an impact in their education and achievements," Collins said.
Novak attends Southwood Lutheran Church in Lincoln and saw the effect it had on the community and decided he needed to bring that to Wilber.
"It directly affects kids. There are a lot of programs out there that try to help but may not have much effect. This is a simple program, we have the food and we give it to that person specifically for their use. It is a very hands on program and simple and direct," Novak said.
Upon inquiring about the need for a program like the Backpack Program, Novak found that there was profound need locally.
"This is for kids. It is for the kids to have food on the weekends. That was what spoke to me," Novak said.
Tri County and Dorchester have both started programs for their schools this year and Novak has offered his help to keep those programs going with his expertise.
Lincoln Food Bank will be delivering the food for the program, saving gas expenses for organizers.
Each backpack contains enough food for five meals for a family of four.
The meals are designed by dietitians with the Lincoln Food Bank and also include vouchers for bread, milk and eggs.
Food Mesto in Wilber has been working with Novak on the program with honoring the vouchers.
Some of the items inside each backpack may include cereal, noodles, oatmeal, pancake mix, canned vegetables, canned fruit, cans of tuna, soup, rice and peanut butter and jelly.
The school, along with organizers of the program, will determine, out of those who qualify, students most in need. Those students will receive backpacks first and annually that list will be reviewed by the school.
To donate to the program, contact Novak at (402) 821-7611 for more information.
All donations are tax deductible.