John F Kennedy once said, “If we work together, there isn’t anything we can’t do.” 

Heeding that statement, Feed Our Rural Kids (FORK) Inc., has announced the collaborative effort of all the Eagle River financial institutions to raise money in support of local nutritional support programs that target children.

“Never before have all of our financial institutions spoken with a single voice in an effort to raise money for a great cause, said  FORK Board Advisor and Cash for Kids Chairman Keith Kentala.

The Cash for Kids fundraiser will provide financial support to these important local programs:  Vilas Food Pantry, The Locker, FORK Cares, Meals NOW, The Room, The Emergency Formula Support Program, Jump Start and the Weekend Backpack Program. 

All monies raised through the Cash for Kids program between Aug. 8 and Sept. 7 will be shared equally by the organizations whose programs are listed above. 

“In the 12 months prior to the Northland Pines school buildings being closed as part of the state’s Safer at Home order, demand on local nutritional support programs was up as much as 77%,” said FORK President Perry Pokrandt. “The economic circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic are projected to increase pressure on these programs going into the new school year.

“It is our belief that Cash for Kids is the right program at the right time in order to support our community’s kids in anticipation of the new school year,” said Pokrandt.

Scott Foster, FORK vice president and Northland Pines School District administrator, explained how this program came to be.

“Originally, we envisioned Cash for Kids as a fundraising idea for our FORK Cares program looking ahead into 2021,” he explained. “But the overall increase in demand that each of our nutritional support programs for children are faced with, lead the FORK Board to decide to share the revenue from this effort.” 

Each bank and the credit union has set an individual goal to raise enough money to fund the equivalent of 1,000 meals for children. With the average cost of a meal in Vilas county costing $3.55, according to Feeding America, this means that even a $10 donation will make a difference in the life of a child. 

“The cumulative financial goal of the program will be just over $28,000 in total,” said Kentala. “We need the community to come together, as we can’t feed kids without their help.”

Several of the financial institution leaders said they back the program.

“By coming together and speaking with a unified voice, Ripco and other financial institutions believe we can make a larger impact than if we each worked individually,” said Jolene Richey, branch manager for RIPCO Credit Union. “Being a mom with young kids in the district, I wanted to help and set an example of community for my own kids.”

“At Nicolet National Bank, we are committed to our local kids,” said vice president of commercial lending Larry Snedden. “Having grown up here, I know the challenges faced by so many. We invite our customers to join us in this effort.”

“Food insecurity is on the rise nationally and locally,” said Chelsea Brandt, assistant vice president regional manager for mBank. “Being a part of this group effort is what hometown banking is all about.”

“We hope that the community sees the value in all that is being done to help the kids locally,” added Cheryl Olejniczak, branch manager for Associated Bank in Eagle River. “We hope they stop by the bank to help us raise those 8,000 meals.”

“Thank you to the banks and the credit union in advance for coming together to help feed kids,” concluded Pokrandt. “We thank the community for all they have done so far, and hope that they come together to be part of the Cash for Kids fundraiser.”

Those who would like to join this broad-based community effort can donate by cash or check at any of the local financial institutions. Individuals can also donate online at FeedOurRuralKids.org/cashforkids.

Checks to fund local food support programs can be mailed to Cash for Kids, 4887 Echo Ridge Dr., Eagle River, WI 54521. 

All donations are tax deductible under new charitable contribution guidelines as adopted by the recently passed CARES Act.