BackPack Program Increased in Second Harvest Pilot Project

Alicia Tipcke
Updated: October 29, 2019 06:19 PM

About 11,000 elementary age kids in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin do not have enough food. That's why Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank is implementing a pilot program to increase the food supply for kids in the Cloquet School District.


"That is a higher rate of food insecurity in our service region than both the state of Minnesota and Wisconsin on average," said Shaye Moris, the Executive Director of Second Harvest.

Since 2010 the Second Harvest BackPack program has supplies nearly 1,100 kids a week with 3-4 pounds of food. They partnered with Project Joy in 2012, a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing food scarcity needs of children in the Northland. They announced this year they would try a pilot in Cloquet, providing kids with as much as nine pounds of food.

"I noticed kids in kindergarten were saving their snack and one of them told me if he brought it home him and his brother could have it for supper," said Washington Elementary kindergarten teacher Mary Bakken. Washington Elementary in Cloquet will be a part of the new pilot project.

The BackPacks are sent home with children in need of food on the weekends. "The backpack program as it currently stands provides a few weekend meals for kids who are missing their federally subsidized school breakfast and lunch," added Moris.

Increased food supply will allow children to share with their family, and assure they will have enough to eat until school on Monday. 

"These kids bring these bags home and they sometimes have other family members at home too, younger siblings, or what have you. So being able to up the weight gives them the opportunity to just kind of spread that food out for the weekend," commented Laura Plys, the committee head for Project Joy.

Since inception, the BackPack program has served 16 NE Minnesota and NW Wisconsin school districts. Second Harvest was inspired by their sister food bank in Phoenix, Arizona to distribute larger bags of food. The increased supply also keeps costs low, since accessing, storing and shipping large units of food is more cost effective than individual packages. 

Each BackPack costs about $4 or less to put together. Hundreds of volunteers have participated in packing the bags every week.

"A dollar to us is a weekend for them," said Sheila Kahlstorf, a first grade teacher at Washington Elementary. 

The bags are funded through donations. The next fundraiser event is the Eighth Annual Project Joy event Friday from 5 p.m. to 9p.m at the Duluth Curling Club.

The event raises awareness of childhood hunger relief. All proceeds from the event, which will have a cash bar, auction and other activities, will go to the BackPack Program.

Project Joy was started by a local family who's honoring the memory of a loved one, Patrick Plys, a Duluth Hall of Famer who was known for his community service.

To donate to the cause, go to:

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Alicia Tipcke

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