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Weekend backpack program gets attention during homecoming week
By By Evelyn Jorgensen
BVHS senior intern

September 17. 2013 11:36AM
Last week, Brandon Valley High’s senior class had the opportunity to nominate candidates for this year’s homecoming king and queen. Coronation is Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center.

The six king candidates are Cooper Baltzer, Luke Bauske, AJ Garrow, Cam Holmes, Erik Ode and Adam Presler. Queen candidates include Lexi Hoover, Taylor Murtha, Kathryn Ode, Kara Schroeder, Hannah Stensrud and Paige Wright. Each candidate will walk in with a favorite teacher or staff member.

All this week the high school is filled with Homecoming spirit, and throughout the week, students are participating in dress-up days. The week’s festivities conclude Friday with a day of no classes. The high school has made a point to make Homecoming a day of celebration. Often, little is accomplished in a 20-minute class period anyway, so it has become a day to get stuff done.

It is a time to mix fun events with serious issue, according to Gregg Talcott, high school principal. On Friday the students will not only engage in the always-popular class olympics, but will also focus on making a difference and seeing the endless opportunities for their futures.

Despite the excitement and madness of the week, high school students will be participating in a service project to help Feeding South Dakota and the district’s Weekend BackPack Program. For several years now, high school students have taken on a service project during Homecoming as a way to make the day about more than themselves. Every year the school participates in helping support a new cause.
“This year we picked a local thing,” Talcott said.

Feeding South Dakota had the need and Talcott wanted to see school kids helping school kids. He wanted to be able to raise awareness and understanding for the cause more than just providing funds. “Many high school students don’t know that other students don’t have the ability to feed themselves over the weekends, he said.

Through the Weekend Backpack Program, Feeding South Dakota fills the need of food for students at risk of hunger during weekends and holidays while they are not in school. It takes about $10,000 to cover the costs of the local program annually. The Brandon Valley School District has an account with Feeding South Dakota to allow for donations to be made specifically to the district. Donations should include “Brandon Valley Schools” on the memo line of checks.

“The typical backpack contains easy to open, easy to fix, and easy to eat foods,” Susan Foster, principal of Fred Assam Elementary says.

These foods include PopTarts, crackers and cheese, pretzels, soup, macaroni and cheese, and fruit. Each backpack sent out costs about $4.

“For one student, at a back pack each week, during an entire school year costs $145,” Foster says.

At the start of the school year, every student in the district was sent home with information about the Weekend Backpack Program. For families in need of such assistance, they completed the form and returned it to a school counselor.

Last year the Brandon Valley School district had 107 students that were in need of help with meals for the weekends.

“We always seem to hover right around 100 students each year that receive backpacks. We aren’t quite there yet this year,” Foster said, “but it won’t be but a few more weeks with requests coming in that we’ll be right back to that magic number.”

Each month of the school year, a church in Brandon sends volunteers to bring all of the totes for the Brandon Valley School District to Fred Assam Elementary from Feeding South Dakota. The totes are transported to the school every Wednesday in order to prepare the backpacks for distribution on Fridays.

“Our custodian, Barb Langner, then delivers the requested number of backpacks to each school,” Foster said.

While Feeding South Dakota, with the help of United Way and donations, aid in the program, those only cover the costs of 35 backpacks. For every backpack over 35, it is up to the school district to cover the costs.
Currently, Brandon Valley 88 students signed up to receive backpacks and has about one or two new student requests each week.

Even after monthly donations from churches and individual groups, the program here was short approximately $6,300 going into the school year, which had organizers wondering how to handle the need and requests for backpacks.

“A private donor called me on the phone to see how they could help,” Foster said.
“The next day, I was handed a check for $6,300! Can you imagine my surprise? Perfect timing!”

At Thursday’s coronation, the PAC stage will be filled with canned goods and food for the Brandon Area Food Pantry.

“Some people need the visual,” Talcott said. “It is hard to stack cash on stage.”

In addition, cash donations will be collected throughout the week at the high school.

All cash donations will go to Feeding South Dakota to help fund Brandon Valley’s Weekend Backpack Program needs.

“While the BVSD account is in good measure right now,” Foster said, “this is a yearly cost that doesn’t disappear. So any donations and fundraisers now will give us a jump start to funding backpacks for next year!”

As a way to engage the community in Brandon Valley's Homecoming celebration, students were given the opportunity to paint business windows throughout Brandon. Pictured painting the window at Sunshine Foods are Rebecca Vandekieft (From left), Sheridan Coyle and Kohta Komatsupara, Submitted photo

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