by Cori Hilsgen
The Central Minnesota Catholic Worker group, Kennedy Community School and others are collaborating to begin distributing Colt Action Packs to students in need of food for weekends. By providing food to elementary students who many not have enough food over the weekend, the program helps students come to school nourished so they are better able to learn.
The Colt Action Packs program is modeled after the ROCORI Action Packs program. That program, which is funded by local donations, invites volunteers to put together packs twice each month and then sends those packs to the elementary schools for distribution for students to use throughout the weekend.
The St. Joseph group plans to fill the Action Packs with several breakfast items, a snack, and lunch and dinner items students can eat throughout the weekend. The first packing event for the Colt Action Packs will take place from 7:30-8:30 a.m. Friday, April 28.
The packs will then be discretely distributed Friday, May 5 at Kennedy Community School to about 15 students.
Amy O’Hare, school counselor at Kennedy Community School, said the school has 829 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and about 33 percent of those students are receiving free and reduced-price lunches.
Not all of the students will opt to participate in the program, but Central Minnesota Catholic Worker Molly Weyrens said they are hopeful they might be able to reach a large percentage of them.
Weyrens said the group is looking forward to getting a start on the distribution this spring so they can work out the kinks and be ready to go with the program in the fall.
She said Kennedy Community School staff has been great, and they are really excited about partnering with them to make this distribution happen.
O’Hare, who has worked at the school for 10 years, said the program will help combat hunger while supporting the students’ success.
She said the school and area residents are currently piloting the program.
They will pilot the program with about 15 students whose parents/guardians have indicated their children would benefit from being a part of the program.
“We hope to expand and welcome community and school partnership,” O’Hare said.
Weyrens said three volunteers are coordinating the planning and packing for this spring, but the group is looking for about three to five more volunteers to help for future distributions.
She said with only 15-20 youth receiving the first distribution, they will not need as many hands at the outset.
Weyrens said the idea of the Action Packs program got started when the St. Joseph Community Food Shelf had discussed the possibility of doing the food-pack distributions. After staff at Kennedy Community School shared there was a need for the program, the ball kept rolling to get something started.
“Luckily, we have a great example in Cold Spring with the ROCORI Action Packs, so that has helped immensely in our planning,” Weyrens said.
The Colt Action Packs program is a collaboration of Central Minnesota Catholic Worker and The Partnership, which is a group in St. Joseph that works to engage and empower St. Joseph area residents to take an active role in alleviating poverty, establishing relationships and improving access to jobs, housing, food, education and other basic necessities. Funds to help finance the start-up of the program came from the Central Minnesota Worker and Thrivent Financial. Weyrens said they are also hoping for some pending donations from the American Legion Post 328 in St. Joseph.
O’Hare and other staff at Kennedy Community School will determine who might benefit the most from the Colt Action Packs.
Families who are receiving free and reduced-price lunches will be the first to be connected with the program. However, if other families feel they are dealing with food insecurity and would like to be included, they should contact O’Hare at the school.
O’Hare and assistant principal, Anna Willhite, will place the bagged food in student backpacks in their lockers at the school on May 5, and will continue this every Friday for the remainder of the school year.
Currently, Kennedy Community School students are the only ones eligible to receive the Colt Action Packs, but Weyrens said they have also contacted All Saints Academy to see if students there have a need.
Weyrens said the group plans to do fundraising for the program this summer by writing some grants, approaching area businesses for donations and through a lot of prayer.
Each pack provides easy, quick and nutritious meals an elementary student can prepare by her/himself. Each pack contains 12 food items, four breakfast foods, two meal foods, three fruit products and three snacks.
Weyrens said the food for the Colt Action Packs will come from Cash Wise stores.
Similar student food-distribution programs are ongoing in Melrose, St. Cloud and Sauk Centre.
The Catholic Worker movement was founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Their goal was to combine the philosophy of love from the Gospels with the idea of bringing people together, especially those experiencing poverty, to care for one another and create a better world.
To volunteer or donate, please contact the Central Minnesota Catholic Worker by email at email@example.com or by mail at P.O. Box 94, St. Joseph, Minn. 56374.
For more information about registering a child, parents/guardians can contact O’Hare at Kennedy Community School at firstname.lastname@example.org or 320-363-7791, ext. 6582 if their child(ren) are in need of food for the weekend.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.