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Sparta school helps students in need with food for the weekends

LA CROSSE, Wis. - As students head home from school for the weekend, some are taking home much more than just books and homework.

Southside Elementary - in Sparta, like many schools, has a lot of students who take advantage of free and reduced-price meals, but extending the helping hand for a good meal was only possible during the school day, that is, until now.

For some students at Southside elementary, lunch time on Friday was their meal for a while.

"Some students, we know were going home on Friday with lunch being their last meal and then they would get nothing until breakfast on Monday," said Amy Russ, third grade teacher at Southside Elementary.

The need for a good meal is growing at Southside. Nearly 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced meals.

While that need can be met during the school day, the weekends are a huge concern for Russ.

"You wonder if their nutritional needs are being met," said Russ. "You wonder if they're getting enough sleep. Can they learn if they're hungry? Their behaviors -- are they going to be able to make good choices when all they can worry about is lunch, ‘when do I get to eat again?'"


So Russ and other staff members started the Nutrition for Children program in October.

With some generous donations from community organizations, every Friday nearly 20 students are sent home with food.

"They take home canned fruits [and] canned vegetables pasta," said Russ. "They take home snack crackers [and] cheese."

Its enough food for students to make at least one meal and some snacks to help them get by until the bell rings again Monday morning.

So far, Southside Principal Diane Everson-Riley said the program is proving to be successful but keeping this good thing going may be a struggle.

"There's a financial burden not only on families, but also on businesses in the area so we are nervous about keeping this going," said Everson-Riley.

Everson-Riley and Russ say while they have enough funds for the year, they'll be working hard to continue the program for many years to come.

"We get to kind of extend our reach beyond the school day with a program like this and bring a little bit of light at home if it's a struggle," said Russ.

The school does take into account siblings at home, so if they know a student in need has a brother or sister at home, they'll send home just a little more food to help out.

If you would like to help you can contact South Side Elementary at 608-269-8186.

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