Winona school adds new food program

Winona school adds new food assistance program for weekends

WINONA, Minn. — Most students bring home backpacks full of books, but soon some Winona students will be bringing home two bags home: one with books and one with food.

Jefferson Elementary School in Winona is joining the effort to keep kids in need healthy and ready to learn.

The school is the newest member of the Food for Thought program.


Jefferson Principal Mat Nelson is excited to have a new way to help families in the community.

“It’s just an avenue to feed nutritious snacks to families who maybe are going through some hard times, or a hardship,” he said. “Those students might not always get those nutritious snacks.”

The program is funded by Winona Volunteer Services and Central United Methodist Church. The volunteers fill backpacks full of food for kids in need to take home on the weekends.

“The volunteers put backpacks on a rack on Friday. The students get them from the rack at the end of the day and take them for the weekend and bring them back on Monday,” Nelson explains.

Students are chosen for the program based on teacher’s recommendations and numbers from the free and reduced meal program. The food is available for up to 22 students total in the school.

“We know that if a student’s basic needs aren’t met, the hierarchy of needs, they’re hungry, or if they have poor nutrition,” said Nelson. “It can lead to a lack of concentration.

The problem isn’t unique to Winona. In the La Crosse School District food pantries try to meet similar needs.

Supervisor of School Nutrition, Joni Ralph said the food pantry program has been around for quite a few years and serves children’s needs.

“It’s established so that our students can be successful in school because a hungry child can’t learn,” she said.

The district offers food to families who may be going through a hardship or struggling financially.

Ralph said any family can participate and that interested parties need to contact their school to find out where and when to pick up the food.

“They come in, they don’t have to be identified, they pick up their grocery bag and then they take it home,” she said.

Whether through backpacks or grocery bags full of food, reaching out to the community and helping those in need is the goal of both programs.

“I think it’s one of the best things that we do as a community to help each other,” said Ralph.

“We just want to do our part when we can to help out,” said Nelson.

The backpacks in the Food for Thought program have enough food to feed more than one child. The school tries to send bags home to families with multiple children.

Both the food pantries and the Food for Thought program are funded by donations and are supplemental to the free and reduced meal programs all public schools offer.