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The spring semester has started, and students of Takini School District in South Dakota and Menominee School District in Wisconsin will go back to class ready to focus on learning free from hunger thanks to Running Strong for American Indian Youth’s Smart Sacks.
The Smart Sacks program was developed in 2011 to provide students at these two schools with nutritious take-home food to tide them over the weekend. The effects of hunger while at school are well documented and many: a hungry child has a harder time concentrating, has lower energy for activities and studies, and difficulty recalling what they learn. Free or reduced breakfast and lunches have been proven to be one of the most effective measures in improving not only a child’s performance in school but also their general mood and overall well-being.
The Smart Sack menus are thoughtfully planned to be a balanced diet for growing children; each week varies, but always contains dairy, fruit, vegetables, a snack, and meat or a skillet mix. A sample Smart Sack from January included shelf stable whole milk, applesauce, spaghetti with meatballs, green beans, and a stroganoff skillet dinner.
After the implementation of this program the improvement in students’ performance was overnight and dramatic. Takini and Menominee teachers who spend all day with their students saw the impact a full stomach has on growing brains and bodies firsthand and thanked Running Strong and our supporters for investing in Native youth’s health with a holistic approach. After the Smart Sack implementation Menominee was even awarded a Silver in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Healthier School Challenge for meeting rigorous standards for school meals, physical activity, and nutrition information – in part due to the readily available weekend food.
“The kids really look forward to getting their food bags on Thursdays,” commented Mary Little Sky, our Backpack Food Coordinator at Takini. “Now we even have other new students wanting to volunteer.”
As of January, 1,590 Smart Sacks have been distributed in the 2019-2020 school year.