Sanford Health helps to fill backpacks and fight hunger

Volunteers, partnerships feed students and families through Feeding South Dakota

Cardboard box containing school lunches as part of Feeding South Dakota Backpack Program. Orange sticker on the box says "I AM FEEDING SOUTH DAKOTA"

School bells will be ringing before we know it. Thanks to a partnership between Sanford Health and Feeding South Dakota, some students’ backpacks will have a little extra going home with them on weekends.

Filling the hunger gap

Feeding South Dakota, a member of the Feeding America network of 200 food banks, looks to fight hunger throughout the state of South Dakota. Sanford Health has partnered with Feeding South Dakota for years, recently donating $1 million and volunteering at Feeding South Dakota’s Sioux Falls distribution center.

Feeding South Dakota’s CEO Matt Gassen, the father of Sanford Health’s president and CEO Bill Gassen, said the nonprofit started the BackPack Program because when kids return to school, hunger often returns as well.

“We started (it) at Feeding South Dakota about 10 years ago. It’s a program designed to fill what became known as a hunger gap on the weekends for many of our schoolkids. We found out that we had a lot of schoolkids that became very dependent on free (or) reduced lunch meals that they were getting in their schools every day.

“The problem happened on Friday afternoon at three o’clock. When the bell would ring and the kids would get sent home, there became a realization that many of these kids are going home to situations where there isn’t enough food in the house,” said Gassen.

What’s in the bag?

Food packages are sent home with the kids every Friday.

During the fall months, Feeding South Dakota ends up serving roughly 4,200 children each week.

The food packages consist of multiple breakfast and lunch entree items, along with a few snacks.

“That way they don’t have to go those two days without getting enough food to eat. We learned too that (if) a child doesn’t receive those nutrients, when they come back to school Monday morning, it’s going to be really difficult for them to sit in a classroom and concentrate on learning,” said Gassen.

“We can’t expect a child to do that if they’re hungry. The stomach is going to override the mind every time,” he added.

A longstanding partner

Gassen said Sanford Health has helped the nonprofit live out their mission to end hunger. He described the partnership between Feeding South Dakota and Sanford Health as “multi-dimensional.”

During the height of the pandemic, Feeding South Dakota had to close its fixed pantry in Sioux Falls. Gassen explained this presented challenges, because the organization has “always felt like we were a ‘come to us’ organization.”

“We had the food. If you were in the community and you needed food assistance, you had to come to where we were at,” he said.

Gassen and other leaders at Feeding South Dakota knew they needed to move to where the hunger was: in the city.

During this time was when Sanford Health donated $1 million to the nonprofit. Gassen said that gift has helped them to feed more residents of Sioux Falls, wherever they may live.

“We started in one location, and we have now grown that to where we are doing a monthly distribution in 14 different neighborhoods in the city,” he said.

How you can help

Gassen said the nonprofit is always looking for volunteers.

“In the nonprofit world, we talk about time, talent, and treasure. We’ve never used volunteers or needed volunteers more than we have today. The other thing is talent. Whether it’s a talent of volunteering to pack boxes or help out with administrative functions, or helping with mobile distributions, people have a lot of talents.

“Treasures are those monetary donations that people have been so generous with. Over the years it has really enabled us to do the work we do. Because if it’s not for the people that support us financially, this work doesn’t happen. It just doesn’t happen,” he said.

According to Feeding South Dakota’s website, you can organize a food drive at any time. In addition, food donations can also be made at the three statewide locations in Rapid City, Pierre, and Sioux Falls.

Learn more

Posted In Back to School, Children's, Community

Leave A Reply