St. Petri volunteers help feed R-S kids in need

Staff Writer
Story City Herald
St. Petri volunteers help feed R-S kids in need

—by Paula Van Brocklin

Growing up, Karleen Uitermark went to a friend’s house whose family struggled to put food on the table. Uitermark vividly recalls her friend offering her a snack, only to find the refrigerator empty, except for a jar of mayonnaise. Their “treat” was a tomato from the garden.

That image still is etched in Uitermark’s memory today, and it’s what prompted her to become the new volunteer coordinator of the BackPack Program at St. Petri Lutheran Church in Story City, where Uitermark is a member.

The BackPack Program is a national organization, sponsored by Feeding America, which has been providing weekend meals to children for 15 years. A few years ago, another St. Petri member – Carmen Peter – initiated the program locally when she realized that several children in the Roland-Story school district had little or no food to eat once the school week ended and the weekend began.

This upcoming school year marks the third year that volunteers from St. Petri pack plastic sacks of food, donated by the Food Bank of Iowa in Des Moines, for Roland-Story elementary school children in need.

“We serve roughly 30 kids each week during the school year, and we have a cap of 35,” Uitermark said. “The school identifies the children in need and then their parents must complete some paperwork before the kids can begin receiving the food each week.”

Kids on the free and reduced lunch list do not automatically qualify for the BackPack program. Participants must meet the criteria of chronologically hungry children.

St. Petri volunteers drive to Des Moines about once every six weeks to pick up nonperishable food items at the food bank. Then, each Sunday, additional volunteers stay after the church service to pack the bags. Uitermark takes the bags to the elementary school in Story City early in the week, where they are distributed each Friday by school officials.

Each sack contains multiple healthy food items for the kids, including but not limited to a hot cereal mix, dry cereal, fruit cups, granola bars, a microwaveable meal, juice boxes and shelf-stable milk. Throughout the year, additional items are added to the sacks, including toothbrushes and certificates for ham around the Christmas holiday.

Uitermark and the other St. Petri volunteers have no idea who receives the sacks of food each week, and that’s OK with them.

“It doesn’t matter to us who’s getting the sacks,” Uitermark said. “We’re just happy that we can help children in need.”