Childhood obesity continues to be a problem that's not only growing nationwide, but also right here in the La Crosse community.
But for children and families who rely on food pantries for their meals, it can be an even bigger challenge to overcome.
However, when a lot of people think about donating, they go for the cheaper, processed boxed foods in their cupboards at home.
“Sometimes it’s a lot of food that is very processed,” said Beth Balder-Schroeder, co-chair of the Childhood Obesity Coalition. “High in salt [and] high in fat [foods] that aren't as nourishing.”
Fall is normally the time of year when schools hold food drives. That’s why the coalition is urging students and their families to be mindful of the food they donate as part of the first annual Healthy Pantry Challenge.
“We'd just really like to change the whole community attitude towards food drives in that we can think healthy, when you donate to food pantries,” said Balder-Schroeder.
The challenge is an effort put on by the Coulee Region Childhoood Obesity Coalition to fill the local pantry shelves with healthy options like the whole grain cereals and canned fruits and vegetables for families in need.
At Holmen's Sand Lake Elementary, food drives have been an annual tradition for more than a decade.
Sand Lake Elementary’s principal, Brian Oberweiser, said urging students to donate healthy foods as part of their annual food drives seemed to be a logical thing to do and it also helps teach students to care for others.
“We know that even kids in our school come to us that are hungry each day, and we want them to understand that although I may come to school with a full belly and have a full belly when I go to bed, some kids don't have that option, and this is an option for them to get food,” said Oberweiser.
Sand Lake Elementary is one of about seven schools participating in the challenge.
Balder-Schroeder said the challenge is also in part an educational effort to combat childhood obesity.
“There is a correlation with higher obesity rates, particularly in children and adults that are in lower socio-economic levels, and so people who use the food pantries sometimes do have more of a problem with obesity,” said Balder-Schroeder.
The hope is, all children, whether their families use the food pantries or not, will have an opportunity to live healthy lives.
“Most of us have choice in selecting healthy foods when we go to the store, and sometimes that isn't always an option when people go to the pantry,” said Oberweiser. “So I think just options for all families when they need to select healthy foods rather than just it’s a food that's available to us.”
“If we can provide food through the food pantries that are healthier, one, it nourishes their bodies, and two, it helps educate them on what the healthier foods are, and it will help them make them healthier, and control their weight and feel better and have more energy and have longer lives because of being able to nourish their bodies in an appropriate way,” said Balder-Schroeder.
All of the schools participating in the healthy food pantry challenge will be entered into a drawing.
The winning school will have the privilege of lighting up Riverside Park for this year's Rotary Lights the day after Thanksgiving.
The food drives officially end mid-December.
All of the food goes to the Hunger Task Force to then be distributed out to other local food pantries.