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Backpack program brings food to students in need

Students in need of food in the Tea Area School District make use of Feeding South Dakota’s backpack program.

High school counselor Kara Spieler brought the backpack program to the Tea Area School District four years ago. She had gained experience when she interned at the Sioux Falls School District. Spieler did the fundraising to get the program going in Tea. For each student, the cost is $150 per school year, it is voluntary and confidential.

The first year she had about 40 families say they wanted to participate in the program. If a family wants to stop receiving the backpacks, they send a note to school to say they do not need it anymore.

“It’s a bag and it’s a three-day supply of food,” Spieler said.

The packs include juice boxes, chocolate milk boxes that do not need to be refrigerated, apples, cereal bowl, oatmeal, popcorn and other things.

“Tea’s population is so diverse that we’ve got high income and we’ve got low income and we do have that low income group here. It’s a nice program to have,” Spieler said.

Spieler has had up to 64 kids on the program at one point and down to 34. Some families will use it one year and not the next, depending on their situation.

In the kindergarten through sixth grade, the teachers put the packs in their backpacks during recess or a special like music. In the high school, they are supposed to stop in the office, but the secretaries will put them in their lockers at times.

Lots of the staff and student groups have gone to pack the backpacks in Sioux Falls. Spieler has several drivers deliver them to Tea every Wednesday and they get sent home with kids on Friday.

Besides volunteers from the school, city staff has also gone to pack backpacks at Feeding South Dakota. Tea Mayor John Lawler said the city started helping pack backpacks last year. They went and packed backpacks this year on Jan. 12.

“A little over a year ago I was looking for something the city council and city employees could do to volunteer as a group and help out an organization. The backpack program was a good fit,” Lawler said.

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