Because more than 20% of Vilas County children are in poverty and many families struggle to put food on the table, a group of concerned citizens has recently formed a new organization called Feed Our Rural Kids (FORK). 

“All around the North Woods, like around the rest of the world, there are children who struggle with the challenge of being hungry,” said Perry Pokrandt, president of the newly-formed 501(c)(3).

As a nonprofit, the group’s purpose will be to raise funds  to provide nutritional support to school-aged children from food-insecure homes within the Northland Pines School District (NPSD).

“Of the counties in the United States with the highest levels of food insecurity, 79% of those are rural counties,” said NPSD Administrator and FORK Vice President Scott Foster. “Our children are affected by those numbers since 22% of Vilas County children are in poverty.”

Jackie Coghlan, secretary of FORK and a former Northland Pines Middle School principal, also recognized the need.

“When we first started to look closer at the issue of childhood hunger in the Northland Pines School District, we discovered a gap between those children who are being served by current efforts to enhance their nutritional situation, and a larger group of children who also qualify for and would benefit from current solutions, but are not being served,” pointed out Coghlan.

FORK leaders said food insecurity is defined as the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. 

“To solve this problem for our children requires money that is beyond what the government agencies provide,” said FORK Director Judy Buckton.

Pokrandt said some children are already getting food through a variety of local sources.

“Some students get food through free and reduced lunch and breakfast while in school; local churches provide backpacks to supplement family food on the weekends; and there is ‘The Locker’ in the school to provide food when kids are hungry. And the local food pantry is just that, as it has been for decades,” said Pokrandt. “For now, we will look to support these efforts.”

Pokrandt said there is an estimated 200 youths in the school district who are not taking advantage of the pantry or backpacks. 

“The money we raise will hopefully triple the number of kids reached by the pantry and backpacks,” said Pokrandt.

“As a group, we cannot solve the underlying issue of poverty, but we can give these children encouragement and support by supplementing what their families provide them,” said the Rev. Andrea Fluegel, another FORK director.

Foster said he has witnessed childhood hunger in the classroom.

“As an educator for the last 20-plus years, I’ve seen firsthand the challenge hunger presents in the lives of many of our children. It is my hope that FORK will help these children to compete on an even playing field,” said  Foster.

“We are just trying to give all of our area children an equal chance at success, as it is a well-known fact that a child’s cognitive, emotional and physical development depends on access to wholesome foods and good nutrition,” Foster continued.

To accomplish this goal, FORK will look for other people and organizations in the North Woods who share this concern for area children.

“We will be looking for community-minded individuals, businesses and organizations that know this challenge our children face is not larger than our community’s determination to overcome it,” said FORK Treasurer Dan Beihoff. 

“That’s the great thing about being in a rural community like Eagle River; no matter the challenge, everyone knows they have skin in the game,” added Director Jessica Allen. “Everyone knows that their personal efforts can make a difference. Together, I am confident that FORK will make that difference.” 

Individuals, businesses or organizations interested in participating or giving a monetary gift to help area children through FORK and  contact Pokrandt at (715) 410-8167 or perrypokrandt@gmail.com.