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Backpack programs feed students over the weekends, but the need is decreasing

"Within any school district there's always children that are in need."

Posted: Jan. 9, 2019 7:11 PM

RUSHFORD, Minn. - A lot of faith goes into the backpack program at Rushford-Peterson Schools. "God calls us to look out for our neighbor and if this is one little thing we could do," says Burt Svendsen, a retired music teacher and band director. He facilitates the program with his wife.

In 2012, the backpack program was started by St. Joseph's Catholic Church, St. Mark's Lutheran Church, St. John's Lutheran Church, Root River Community Church, Destiny Life Church, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Rushford Lutheran Church, First Presbyterian Church, Trinity Fellowship Lutheran Church, Highland Prairie Lutheran Church, as well as with Rushford-Peterson Schools and SEMCAC.

Here's how it works: volunteers fill backpacks every Thursday with roughly 2 breakfasts and 2 lunches. Families anonymously sign up for the program. Students pick up a backpack on Friday, and return it on Monday.

When the program began, 40 students were signed up for backpacks. Now, that number is down to 10.

"We've seen some growth in our community as well as some stabilization for our families but within any community and within any school district there's always children that are in need," says Rushford-Peterson Superintendent Chuck Ehler.

While the demand may be declining, which both Ehler and Svendsen say is a good thing, Svendsen adds that the program will continue as long as there are any families in the area that need it. "As one of the local pastors said, he says, 'if there's just one family that gets a benefit out of this, I will pack that backpack myself.'"

There's a new addition to the backpack program this year. Because of Kristy Tweeten and Brad Hoiness and their work with Rushford Foods, KEMPS, and the Fillmore County Dairy Association, students also bring home a coupon for a gallon of milk every week in their backpacks. The coupon is reedemable at Rushford Foods.

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