NOW relies on community generosity to keep homeless youth fedA simple question changed Ann Borich’s view of vacation. A Title I teacher at Blaine Elementary School, she noticed that as summer vacation approached some kids wished they could stay in school. She asked the children, second and third graders, what they would miss most.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A simple question changed Ann Borich’s view of vacation. A Title I teacher at Blaine Elementary School, she noticed that as summer vacation approached some kids wished they could stay in school. She asked the children, second and third graders, what they would miss most. Their answer was unanimous: “The food.”
“It came as a shock to me,” Borich said, one that she never forgot. Now retired, she works with a non-profit agency in Minneapolis that provides backpacks of food to homeless students. And she continues to share the story that made such an impact on her.
“It stayed with me,” the Superior woman said. A basic need was not being met, and children were keenly aware of it.
“Kids should not have to worry about food,” Borich said.
The Nutrition on Weekends (NOW) program has the same aim. Launched by the National Bank of Commerce and United Way of Superior-Douglas County in 2010, the program provides backpacks of food for homeless children over the weekends during the school year.
“We started with just one school, 17 (kids) at one school,” said Cindy Theien, a mortgage banker with National Bank of Commerce. “It grew and grew up to 80, up to 100.”
When the 2011-12 school year ended, approximately 88 bags a week were being handed out — 70 in the Superior school district, 18 in the Solon Springs school district. These children may not be sleeping out on park benches, but they meet the definition of homeless — a student who lacks an adequate nighttime resident. Last year, that included children living in hotels, families doubled up in housing and some living in shelters.
“We did have some families living in vehicles last winter,” said Nicky Wilson, family services coordinator for the Superior School District.
NOW is funded entirely by community donations. It continues to grow and has brought out a sense of selflessness in many, said Theien. High school students have held haunted house fundraisers; a 6-year-old asked for NOW donations instead of birthday presents; proceeds from the “Hunger Takes No Holiday” campaign are earmarked for the program each year.
“It’s taken on a whole persona of its own,” Theien said. “People see the need, they want to help out.”
Add Melissa Brown to that list. As an insurance agent for Holden Insurance Agency Inc., she had the opportunity to nominate programs for $500 through the IMT insurance company’s community contest. Along with NOW, she nominated two Douglas County Leadership projects – improvements at the Susens Pony League Football Field and Mentor Superior. Out of 160 nominations statewide, only 15 earned awards. One of those was the NOW program. Brown handed the $500 check to Theien last week.
“I’m so thankful you thought of us,” the banker said.
Selling insurance is intangible, Brown said, so it was kind of nice to give something back.
The money will go even farther because NOW is partnered with Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. By using their buying power to leverage wholesale prices or discounts, the food bank keeps the cost of each food bag down to about $3-$4 per bag, according to Second Harvest Executive Director Shaye Moris.
“We can keep the cost down so more kids can be fed,” she said.
The NOW program costs about $1,400 per month to run. Wilson said it is slated to start back up in October, once a count of homeless students has been compiled. NOW depends entirely on community support to operate — from volunteers to pack the bags to monetary support from individuals, organizations and businesses. Money can be donated to the United Way of Superior N.O.W. Program at any National Bank of Commerce office. To volunteer, contact Second Harvest at (218) 727-5653.
As for the other two projects Brown nominated for the IMT award, they each got a boost from the Superior Kiwanis Club. Both Brown and Holden insurance agent Greg Mattson are members of the club. The Kiwanis recently handed $250 checks to both the Susens Field project and Mentor Superior.
Brown said she will keep the NOW program in mind when the IMT contest comes up again next year.
“Everyone needs to eat,” she said.