‘Buc Bags’ strives for weekend nutrition

BLUE EARTH – Some kids eat lunch at school on Friday and then don’t eat again until the school serves breakfast on Monday.

A new program called “Buc Bags” is designed to keep those students from going hungry, says Melissa McGuire, K-8 principal at Blue Earth Area Schools.

Last fall, 47 percent of Blue Earth Area Elementary students qualified for free or reduced meals. The percentage can vary through the school year, but it’s “a good starting target for us this year,” McGuire said.

Faribault County is one of the lowest-income counties in Minnesota, according to kidscount.org.

The school can make sure children get at least two nutritious meals per day during the week, but weekends can mean no food if finances are tight.

“If a student has lunch here Friday and doesn’t have breakfast until Monday, it takes them a while to get back into school mode and feel safe again,” McGuire said. “To be able to do anything, you have to be fed. If you’re hungry, you’re not gonna learn.”

Buc Bags aims to fill that weekend gap.

Blue Earth Area students in kindergarten through third grade who qualify for free and reduced meals will be served when the program begins Sept. 13. McGuire hopes to add grades 4-5 soon. Students also can get into the program on a teacher’s recommendation or parent’s request.

Buc Bags is modeled on the Backpack Food Program that Winnebago Elementary has had since 2011. More than half of Winnebago Elementary students qualify for free or reduced lunches, which prompted volunteers from First Presbyterian Church, United Methodist Church and St. Mary’s Catholic Church to assemble the bags of food each week.

St. Paul Lutheran Church in Blue Earth researched the program in Winnebago as well as one in Mankato. Dan Duden, youth director for St. Paul, will coordinate Buc Bags. He is looking for monetary donations and volunteers to assemble the bags at the church each Friday.

The pack will contain two breakfasts and two lunches of nutritious foods that are easy for kids to prepare, either just pop a top or heat in a microwave.

The bags will be delivered to the school office and teachers will slip the food packs into the kids’ backpacks in secret. Students will be instructed on the confidential nature of the program.

“The goal is to raise $20,000; that’s the estimated cost per year,” said McGuire, adding that $5 sponsors a child for one weekend and $185 sponsors a child for the entire school year.

For those wishing to donate, money is best because not all food will meet the nutrition requirements, and the funds can be used to purchase whatever might be running low. Donations may be made at Blue Earth Elementary or the church, McGuire said. Checks may be written out to “Buc Bags.”

Those wanting to help pack the bags can contact Duden at St. Paul at (507) 526-7318.

“I think it’s a great program,” McGuire said. “I couldn’t be happier with the community for supporting it. Feeding them, that simple gesture will help them learn to be better citizens.”