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 harder time concentrating; has less energy for their studies and school activities; and 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.
And 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.”