Sept. 1 marks the first day of school within the Northland Pines School District and the beginning of a new nutritional support program for area children and their families known as the Children’s Pantry.

The Children’s Pantry program was designed by Feed Our?Rural Kids Inc. (FORK) to address the challenge around food availability for local families, according to FORK?President Perry Pokrandt.

“These in-school pantries improve a family’s ease of access, both in terms of providing convenient local access and increasing the number of hours each day that pantry support is available,” said Pokrandt.

Each school-centered Children’s Pantry will serve two purposes. The first is to provide the school’s educational staff with a resource so as to aid hungry children during the school day and beyond if necessary. Secondly, the concept of the Children’s Pantry is to provide a local, year-round, weekday access point for food support to parents or guardians of children from food-insecure households.

“The more accessible food is to families, the higher the probability that children will receive the support they need,” said Pok­randt.

Initially, there will be three children’s pantries placed in the entryway of the Eagle River, St. Germain and Land O’ Lakes elementary schools in the Northland Pines School District. 

“Later in October, a Children’s Pantry will be placed within the Phelps School District building,” said Jean Arndt, Children’s Pan­try chairwoman.

“This program will provide our staff another tool by which they can support the children within their care,” said Scott Foster, FORK vice president and Northland Pines district administrator. “It’s a great way to support both our children and our staff.”

The Children’s Pantry is also an emergency resource for families, though it is not intended that these pan­tries act as a replacement for the role of local food pantries.

“The concept of a Children’s Pantry is to encourage people to take what they need in support of the children in their care,” said Arndt.

FORK is seeking individuals, businesses or organizations to “adopt” a pantry within their community. To do so, they can make a weekly or monthly donation of food items at the Children’s Pantry location in each community. A sample of the items that can be donated are canned fruits, vegetables, meats and soups. A complete list of the types of food items FORK is looking for can be found at feedourruralkids.org/childrens-pantry.

“The idea is for the more fortunate to ‘give what you can’ to support the children,” concluded Arndt. 

“We want to reiterate that this program does not replace, but will enhance, the reach of both the Headwaters and Vilas food pantries,” said Pokrandt. “Each local Children’s Pantry will provide users with information promoting their area’s food pantry, including their specific hours of operation.”

Jackie Coghlan, Vilas Food Pantry president and FORK board member, said the Children’s Pantry can help students and families with nutrition in an emergency.

“FORK’s goal of placement of a Children’s Pantry in each community can better meet children’s immediate and unplanned nutrition,” said Coghlan, “while the Vilas and Headwaters food pantries are best to service those in need of longer-term support.”

Individuals who would like to get more information about adopting a Children’s Pantry in their community can contact Arndt at (309) 647-0474. 

Individuals who would like to financially support a Children’s Pantry can visit feedourruralkids.org/childrens-pantry or mail a donation to Children’s Pan­try, 4887 Echo Ridge Drive, Eagle River, WI 54521.

FORK is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.