Letter to the Editor:

I recently accepted an invitation to join the board of directors of a new nonprofit organization in the North Woods called Feed Our Rural Kids (FORK). 

I had read, with interest, the article in the News-Review about the launch of FORK because I wondered how this new effort would impact other efforts already underway, namely the Vilas Food Pantry and the Kids Weekend Food Backpack Program. I need not have worried.

As a member of the clergy, I became aware of local children’s food insecurity on weekends during the school year at a monthly gathering of some of the local clergy more than two years ago. Some of the members of the Vacationland Ministerial Association (VMA), a sort of support group for those who participate, were hearing from teachers and school staff about the Monday morning problem of hungry children.

It turns out when they’re not in school, where they have access to no- or low-cost lunches and even breakfast, they don’t eat. Children who do not eat on the weekends are not ready or even able to learn Monday morning.

The food backpack program is a collaboration of the VMA communities and other generous organizations and individuals, and with the generous sponsorship of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Eagle River and Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church in Sayner where food is gathered and volunteers fill the backpacks weekly. Children who would go hungry take home food for the weekend each Friday.

This effort has attempted to fill a gap, but we know that we are only reaching a fraction of the children who are in need in Eagle River, St. Germain and Land O’ Lakes. So we will continue to work to expand our reach to as many of the estimated 23% of children in the Northland Pines School District who go hungry; a number which is slightly higher than the national average.

Over the last two summers, I and others have lamented the fact that those children who are not in school on a weekly basis because of the vacation break miss out on the weekday meals as well as the weekend backpacks. We tried distributing backpacks through the Walter E. Olson Library, but families have logistical problems getting to the library. 

It is for this reason that FORK has launched the FORK Cares Plan, intended to help provide at least some supplemental nutrition to those children and their families. We’re announcing this now because it will take some time to raise the funds necessary to reach a targeted number of families this coming summer.

Now, I see feeding children through a faith-based lens and from that perspective it becomes a moral imperative. When I examine the origins of public education in the United States, I see that the purpose of our schools is to produce educated, productive citizens and voters for the future. 

Through that lens, feeding children becomes an issue of public interest, ensuring that no student operates at a disadvantage in their learning because of hunger. Whichever lens you use, you can help to reduce and some day eliminate childhood hunger among the school-age children in our local school district. 

I thank you for taking the time to read this, and I humbly invite and encourage you to consider a contribution to help feed our children.

You can find more information and links to contribute to FORK at feedourruralkids.org.

We can eliminate childhood hunger in our district if we work together.

Rick Miech

St. Germain