Viewpoint: Until hunger ends in Hastings, let's stuff the bus
By Mari E. Mellic, United Way of Hastings
The United Way of Hastings has been the Heart of Hastings since the agency was established in 1964. At the time, the founders wanted one organization in the community that would do all the fundraising, limiting the times community members and businesses were asked to donate to various causes. Volunteers canvassed the community and knocked on doors once a year to raise funds for UWH. Then, community members gathered to decide the greatest needs in the community and distribute the funds raised by UWH to community organizations that would provide direct services.
While fundraising has changed tremendously in the past 54 years, the process at UWH remains the same with community members — neighbors just like you — gathering each spring and allocating funds to community organizations to provide direct services. In addition, the UWH Board of Directors allocates funds to UWH's internal services and initiatives that impact those in the community.
One of UWH's internal initiatives is Food4Kids. Food4Kids provides bags of healthful food to students that otherwise would not have enough to eat over the weekend.
A few years ago, UWH learned that there may be students in the Hastings School District who do not have enough to eat on weekends. Some of the indicators of student hunger are behavioral issues at school, lack of concentration on schoolwork, visiting the school nurse with stomach aches.
UWH talked with many groups and individuals within and outside of our community. After gathering information and discussing options, UWH partnered with the Hastings School District and 360 Communities to pilot Food4Kids at Kennedy Elementary and the Hastings Middle School.
At that time a few years ago, UWH provided 20 bags of food to students each week. Food bags included two breakfast items, two lunch items, and two dinner items for Saturdays and Sundays. After our first year, we learned a great deal. We continued with the initiative because (1) we were meeting a need and (2) we were looking to identify the root cause of student hunger.
Fast forward to 2018 — UWH provided nearly 150 bags of food, each week, to students at Kennedy Elementary, Pinecrest Elementary, McAuliffe Elementary, Hastings Middle School and the Alternative Learning Center. UWH funds 360 Communities which provides family support workers at the schools to bridge the gap that may occur between school and home. These workers build relationships with parents, make home visits, and help determine the root causes of hunger in the households. Many times, households require other services to help them get back on their feet. UWH continues to learn more about what families are facing in the Hastings area and why the need continues to rise.
While UWH is pleased with the identification of more students needing food for the weekend, thereby increasing the number of bags leaving the UWH doors from 20 to roughly 150 each week — people are surprised to hear me say that UWH would prefer zero bags of food leaving our doors. Isn't that what we would want as a community? No student hunger?
Our goal is to not increase the number of food bags being distributed, but to solve issues so that students can be successful at school.
Until we can solve the student hunger issue, and impact the root causes, we need your help by contributing to the Food4Kids initiative. s we get ready to send our students back to school, UWH is launching its first Stuff the Bus event where you can purchase the necessary food items for the food bags and help us impact students. We want healthy students arriving back to school on Monday mornings nourished and ready to learn.
Stuff the Bus is a communitywide initiative Aug. 20—27. Coborn's, Cub Foods and Walmart are joining UWH to "stuff the bus" with food for Food4Kids bags. Hastings Bus Co. is also joining efforts by providing buses at the grocery stores for the duration of the event. Each store will have information on what items are needed for the bags and where you can purchase the items. In addition, cash donations will be accepted.
We look forward to seeing you at Stuff the Bus!