For hundreds of local children, a bag of food they get at school each Friday may be the only thing that keeps them from going hungry over the weekend.
That food bag is provided to them through a program called Backpack Buddies, which got that name because the food was originally placed in backpacks.
The program was launched in 2010 as an initiative of the Fort Dodge Sertoma Club and now also involves White Transfer & Storage Co. and inmates of the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility.
For the third year in a row, area residents can provide some financial support to keep that food flowing to the children while at the same time having a chance to win a garden shed. It is a shed made by Fort Dodge Correctional Facility inmates enrolled in the carpentry program of Iowa Central Community College.
Fort Dodge City Councilman Terry Moehnke, the founder and leader of the Backpack Buddies program, described the shed as one that anyone would be proud to have in their yard.
The winner of the shed raffle will be drawn on Dec. 17 at the CJ Bio America Farm News Ag Show.
The shed raffle is a partnership between Iowa Central Community College and The Messenger.
“Our community is fortunate to have local support for great causes like Backpack Buddies,” said Terry Christensen, the publisher of The Messenger.
“I would like to thank Terry Moehnke for his ongoing efforts to keep this program in place,” Christensen added. “Our community is fortunate to have support to fund these efforts — CJ Bio America, Iowa Central and Noon Sertoma have stepped up in a big way to make this happen.”
Iowa Central President Jesse Ulrich said the college is “honored to be a partner in the Backpack Buddies program.”
“Our students have the opportunity to put their skills to use for a great cause,” he said. “This is one of many examples of how Iowa Central continues to be a positive community partner in our service region.”
The need for Backpack Buddies is “fairly obvious,” Moehnke said.
He said more than 60 percent of the students in the Fort Dodge Community School District are eligible for free or reduced price meals.
He said when those students don’t have access to breakfast and lunch at school, they are in danger of going hungry. He said in one instance, an elementary school student lost 12 pounds over a Thanksgiving break because there was no food at their home.
Moehnke said he got the idea for Backpack Buddies from his sister, who was an elementary school principal in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
When the program started, Sertoma Club members were packing about 50 bags of food a week.
Now, prison inmates are packing about 400 bags a week.
Each bag contains a can of food such as ravioli, a can of soup, pudding, fruit cups, juice boxes, individual serving cereal boxes, toaster pastries, and granola bars.
Moehnke said the food is ordered from Hy-Vee in Fort Dodge. White Transfer & Storage Co. drivers pick up the food at the supermarket and deliver it to the prison, where inmates pack the bags.
The bags are picked up at the prison and taken to the schools, where they are distributed to students on Fridays.
How to help
Raffle tickets for the garden shed are now available. The cost is $25 for one ticket, or five tickets for $100.
Tickets can be purchased from Fort Dodge Sertoma Club members. They can also be bought at the office of Terry Moehnke, 25 S. 16th St., or at the Webster County Fairgrounds during the CJ Bio America Farm News Ag Show Dec. 16-17.
All proceeds benefit Backpack Buddies.
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