- The United Way chapter in the Bismarck-Mandan, North Dakota, area is helping bridge nutritional gaps for local children facing hunger.
- A chapter program provides backpacks of food for students who receive free and reduced-cost school lunches to take home on weekends when they may lose access to regular meals.
- Employee volunteers from Marathon Petroleum’s Mandan refinery recently supported the program over a three-day period, preparing enough backpacks for over 1,600 students.
While thousands of students in need in the Bismarck-Mandan, North Dakota, area qualify for free and reduced-cost school lunches during the week, many of them lose access to regular meals on weekends. The Missouri Slope Areawide United Way cites this reality as motivation for its backpack program, which provides backpacks of food for students to take home on weekends during the school year.
Recently, about 30 employee volunteers from Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s (MPC) Mandan refinery supported the backpack program over a three-day period. They stacked nonperishable food in a central location, sorted and packed it, and then delivered full backpacks to schools for counselors to distribute.
“By taking hunger off the list of obstacles for these kids, our hope is they can start their school week ready to learn.”
“It is humbling to see co-workers coming together for a common goal – to feed our local children who need it most,” said the United Way chapter’s Community Engagement Coordinator Laura Duppong. “As a result, over 1,600 kids went home with backpacks of food.”
The backpacks contain enough food to supply meals from Friday evening through Sunday evening. They include items such as cereal, snack bars, fruit cups and microwaveable stew. Empty backpacks are returned to be re-used in the United Way program. As additional support, MPC provided Missouri Slope Areawide United Way a grant for $8,000 to help cover the cost of food.
“Kids are at risk of going hungry over the weekend and then coming to school on Monday distracted from having not eaten,” said Advanced Project Controls Specialist Cathy Schweitzer, who organized MPC’s volunteer effort as the refinery’s Women’s employee network chapter Outreach Coordinator. “By taking hunger off the list of obstacles for these kids, our hope is they can start their school week ready to learn.”
Schweitzer added that she hopes the backpack program becomes a permanent piece of the refinery’s ongoing community involvement because the need for help isn’t likely to go away.
“We heard from a school representative that the only food some families have for the week comes from the school,” she said. “Ideally, we’d like to partner with the backpack program every fall.”