It is halfway through the 2023-24 academic school year. In the first semester alone, over 10,000 Smart Sacks have been distributed!
Running Strong for American Indian Youth® initiated our Smart Sacks after hearing from Native educators that their students were returning to school on Monday mornings hungry and unable to focus on their classwork after not having proper, nutritious meals at home over the weekends.
The many effects of hunger are well documented: A hungry child has a more challenging time concentrating, has less energy for their studies and school activities, and has difficulty retaining the knowledge they are taught in the classroom.
During the school week, students are assured of receiving free breakfasts and lunches, which has been proven to be one of the most effective measures in improving a child’s academic performance and overall well-being.
But there is no such assurance on weekends when, for many, the cupboards at home are bare.
To alleviate the issue for 600 students attending the Keshena Primary School on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin and the Wakpala School on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota each school week, students receive a Smart Sack filled with nonperishable food items – enough to feed themselves, their siblings and other family members – a projected total of 22,140, for the entire academic year.
“Our students experience hardships when it comes to getting enough food,” said Menominee Indian School District grant coordinator Paul Schwaller. “This program will help our students who need extra food or snacks,” noting that unemployment in the county was at an all-time high at 36 percent during the pandemic and that 86 percent of the school’s students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
At Wakpala, Fred Fischer, the school systems food service director, told us that the need for Smart Sacks is great there as “Some, if not all, of our students struggle with food insecurities on weekends and during the holidays.”
In addition to Keshena and Wakpala, Running Strong is also providing hundreds of Smart Sacks to students at the Takini School in Howes, South Dakota, on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation, where our distribution partner, Mary Little Sky, reported that in November, 560 Smart Sacks were distributed.
The Smart Sacks that month contained spaghettiOs, cereal, milk, chocolate milk, juice, chicken noodle soup, teddy bear snacks, pudding, fruit cups, green beans, and animal cracker snacks.
The good thing that happened that month, says Mary, is that “every student gets a food bag.”
With a new semester beginning and during the months of bitter cold for many, the Running Strong Smart Sacks program is more critical than ever.