Pine River backpack program helping 150 students

The Uplift Pine River Area Kids Supplemental Food Program was started with the goal of helping Pine River Area Schools students have access to food and it is doing just that.

LEROY — A program was started with the goal of helping Pine River Area Schools students have access to food. 

A few months later and nearly $25,000 raised, the Uplift Pine River Area Kids Supplemental Food Program is doing just that.

During fall 2016, a small group of community members within the district expressed an interest in providing weekly bags of food to area students so they had food on the weekends. Food insecurity within the district and the Cadillac area is a real problem for many families, and for students experiencing these food emergencies, it is magnified on the weekends. 

Without the breakfast and lunch meals offered by the school and lack of a "backpack" program, some students were facing issues with hunger. 

From that initial meeting in 2016, Uplift Pine River Area Kids was established with the goal of starting a backpack program to help students have food during the weekend. The goal was to offer bags of food to 150 Pine River students from kindergarten through high school. The goal also was to start the program in fall 2017. 

As word of the proposed project spread, the community responded.

The Tustin Covenant Presbyterian Church offered to be the home base for the program and volunteers converted an underused basement area by building countertops and cupboards to allow for sorting, bagging and food storage. More than 50 volunteers from the LeRoy, Luther and Tustin areas came forward to help weekly to unload food trucks and pack food bags. 

With a proposed budget of $24,000 to provide 150 bags of food for 34 weeks, the group sought out grant funding. The Great Lakes Energy People Fund awarded the program $5,000, the Osceola County Community Foundation granted $10,000 and the Gerber Foundation provided $2,000. 

With $17,000 in grants, the program committee sought to raise the remaining dollars through fundraising and donors.

The Augustana Lutheran Church of Tustin offered the proceeds of its biennial Swedish Smorgasbord in exchange for help with its planning, cooking and serving. The event raised nearly $3,000.

Uplift Pine River Area Kids Executive Director Ellen Anderson said that once all the pieces were put in place she knew the money would follow. She also said the people in the Pine River community are generous not only with their time but also their money. She also said programs like Uplift show how important it is to support local community foundations such as the Osceola County Community Foundation and the Gerber Foundation. It also shows the importance of giving to roundup programs such as Great Lakes Energy People Fund.

"That money comes back into our communities, so when you choose to give to these foundations and programs, it stays here and helps our communities," Anderson said. "We are so blessed the Pine River community response and support have been amazing. When I think that last year at this time, we had practically no money and just an executive board, and to be here, a year later, packing 150 bags, and working with over 50 volunteers, not to mention raising nearly $25,000, it is just incredible."

For more information, to volunteer or to donate, visit www.upliftpineriver.com.