At the Takini School in Howes, South Dakota, on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation, and the Keshena Primary School in Keshena, Wisconsin on the Menominee Indian Reservation, hundreds of students resumed their schoolwork, virtually, on Monday, January 4.
And while the future is uncertain as to when they will be returning to the classroom, one thing is certain — thanks to the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth® — they will be sure of continuing to receive “Smart Sacks,” bags of food for themselves and their families each week as they have been for years.
At the Takini School, where all 187 students are Native American and the motto is “Woonspe Okolakiciay” (A Learning Place for the Success of All), every student is eligible for the federal government’s free lunch program.
But instead of bringing home a “Smart Sack” each week containing items such as canned soup and chili, fruit cups, oatmeal, fruit and grain bars, and more, as they have for years, because of COVID-19 the packages of food are delivered to their homes by school staff.
Due to safety reasons, each student’s family has been provided with a food bin placed outside so the food can be delivered in a “no-contact” manner.
Each month, the staff delivers nearly 700 Smart Sacks to families, which as Mary Little Sky, who oversees the Smart Sack program for the school reported in November, “The staff members have mentioned how important this program is for the students.”
At the Keshena Primary School in grades K-5, 95 percent of the students are Native American and 90 percent qualify for the free lunch program.
In fact, it was through the Menonimee tribe that more than a decade ago we learned of the problem of children who receive two meals at the school each school day were returning to class on Monday mornings unable to focus in the classroom because they had not had a meal all weekend.
And when the Menominee Indian School District superintendent informed us that “Our teachers have documented that this lack of food causes fatigue, absenteeism, and poor health, and is impacting the children’s ability to learn,” that we knew we had to act.
Because we are able to purchase the food in large quantities through a wholesaler, the cost of each “Smart Sack” is less than $10, a minimal price to ensure hundreds of children and their family members do not go hungry at home on the weekends where their kitchen pantries are bare.