'Angel' donors step up to feed Superior students

Paying it forward, community donors have provided around $4,000 of support to students in the Superior School District through the Angel Fund, which was established in March.

Paying it forward, community donors have provided around $4,000 of support to students in the Superior School District through the Angel Fund, which was established in March.

Some have been larger donations from organizations like the Elks Club or Concordia Lutheran Church. Other dollars have flowed in from individuals. The majority have gone to cover negative student lunch balances.

"If you're hungry, you can't learn," said Char Utyro, a retired Douglas County employee who has donated to the fund.

But the money can be used for much more: field trips, laptop fees, clothing needs, yearbooks, school supplies and more.

"I work with building principals and such to kind of establish where there's some need and trying to meet people in the middle with some of those," said Nicky Wilson, coordinator of family support services for the district.


In some cases, she said, they've worked to meet a family halfway with paying their lunch balance off.

Every year, the school district grapples with negative lunch account balances. Because students get the same meal as their peers, regardless of whether their account is in the red or not, it's not readily apparent.

"You would never know going through the line who these kids are, because they get the same meal, same choices," Food Service Director Jamie Wilson said. They just can't order extras or a second meal.

"The problem's still there," he said. "It's very real."

The current district total for overdue lunch balances is $19,000, according to Jamie. Although the district has had success working with elementary school parents on the issue, the food service director said it has been a bigger problem this year, for some reason, at Superior High School.

The district reaches out to parents if they have a lunch balance in the red.

"We do 3,300 phone calls a week," Jamie said. "We send 1,600 to 1,800 emails a week. We send notes home in elementary folders asking to contact. We get the information out to families."

Families with negative lunch balances at the end of the school year are sent to collections.


One key to combating negative lunch balances is the annual free and reduced meal benefits application.

"We need families to fill these applications out every single year," Jamie said.

A number of services the district receives hinge off the percentage of students who receive free or reduced meals: Title I funding, after-school snacks, free summer meals and more.

Even if families don't think they qualify for free or reduced price meals, filling out the application is important.

"Numbers are numbers and getting more filled out is better than less," Wilson said. "I think there's some people who think they don't (qualify) who actually do."

And if there's a change to household income - a reduction of hours, a layoff - families can fill out a new application.

Community members can lend a hand, too, through the Angel Fund. Donations are accepted online at or at the district administration building, 3025 Tower Ave. If donors want to contribute to negative lunch balances, it helps to focus on a particular school, class or family.

"If we can narrow it down, it's easier for us to help," Jamie said.


NOW backpack program

The School District of Superior doesn't just feed kids during the week. Homeless children are offered a backpack full of nutritious, easily-prepared food every Friday through the Nutrition On Weekends (NOW) program.

According to Nicky Wilson, the district sends about 40 backpacks of food home with children every weekend.

"Those bags are going to students both that have been identified as homeless, but also we've opened that up to students in the district who have been out of home placed in foster care," she said. "We offer that to foster families, too."

Since the beginning of the school year, 68 children in the district have been identified as homeless.

The district partners with Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, National Bank of Commerce and the United Way to provide food through the backpack program, which launched in 2010.

Donations to the NOW program are accepted at the District Administration Building or through any of the partner agencies.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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