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St. Claire's Hospital expanding Blessings in a Backpack


WESTON, Wis. (WSAU) -- An area medical foundation is involved with a program that helps feed hungry school children at home.

Ministry St. Claire’s Hospital Foundation Director and Coordinator of Community Benefits Antonina Olszewski says the Blessings in a Backpack program was the perfect fit for their foundation, as they searched for ways to help improve the health of young people in the area.  “Blessings in a Backpack is a program that was begun to provide food and nourishment to children who are identified as qualifying for free or reduced lunch on the weekends, so to give them something to take home, and actually, we’re expanding that this summer to include providing a snack every day for children while they’re in summer school.”  Olszewski says, “We just looked at it, and the entire committee here was taken by storm, and said, feeding hungry children in our school district absolutely is a necessity and we have to get involved in this, and that’s where we got started.”

Olszewski says she was very surprised to learn just how many families qualify for the program and are having trouble keeping enough food at home for their families.  “Some schools in the Wausau & D.C. Everest school districts qualify up to 77 percent, so 80 percent of the children in the school qualify for this program.”

Ministry St. Claire’s Hospital first got involved with Blessings in a Backpack on a smaller scale a few months ago.  “This actually began as a school year project, so it began this fall. We started with just one school in D.C. Everest, and we’re already up to six schools in D.C. Everest and Wausau.”

The success of the program at the first school, combined with the great need at other nearby schools prompted the Foundation to expand the program.  “We started out with a very small number of students, under thirty, and it has expanded over six months to 300, so we have plans that next year it will be over a thousand.”

St. Claire’s Foundation is donating $50,000 over the next three years, plus Associate Time and talent to this program. They are also helping coordinate volunteers and seek other donations to support Blessings in a Backpack.

(There is a website with more information, and we’ve got  the entire interview with Antonina Olszewski  on our website.)