A volunteer packs a weekend food bag into a student's backpack. Submitted photo

A volunteer packs a weekend food bag into a student's backpack. Submitted photo

A crusade against childhood hunger

Northeast-based nonprofit provides thousands of Twin Cities children with extra food each week

The Sheridan Story launched in 2010 after school leaders at Sheridan Elementary in Northeast started noticing students grabbing extra food on Fridays so they would have something to eat on the weekends.

School leaders turned to the nearby Mill City Church and asked the pastor for help. Soon church members started providing weekend food bags to 27 kindergarteners. It expanded to all grades in the school two years later and added Delano Elementary School in the spring of 2013.

Now the nonprofit has weekend food programs in 91 schools across the Twin Cities.

Over 200,000 children face hunger in Minnesota, including 100,000 in the Twin Cities.

Sheridan Story board member Wendi Jarson, a former assistant principal at Sheridan Elementary, said she noticed kids were more excited about coming to school on Fridays once the weekend food bags started arriving. They were also more likely to bring their backpacks to school, because they didn’t get food without them.

Jarson led an effort within her own church to sponsor the program at Mississippi Elementary School in Coon Rapids. She and a group of 12 volunteers distribute food to 34 kids each week.

She told one story of a mom who started crying out of gratitude after a teacher suggested the program to her. That family didn’t have any money at the time, Jarson said, and had been eating bread and peanut butter for the previous week and a half.

“There’s stories like that everywhere,” Jarson said. “It’s such a way to give back to the community. It’s a great way to give back to the kids.”

Each week, the Sheridan Story provides an estimated 3,800 Twin Cities kids with about five pounds of food on Friday afternoons at no cost. The nonprofit sources, packages and distributes the food to the schools, where local sponsors, such as churches or businesses, distribute it.

The organization has distributed more than 500,000 meals in its six-year history in an effort to provide a solution to childhood hunger.

“It’s not that we (as a society) don’t have enough food,” said Sheridan Story executive director Rob Williams. “It’s that it’s not in the homes where the kids need it. … Ours is really a distribution solution and a logistical solution.”

The organization works primarily with elementary schools, whose kids can be most susceptible to hunger, Williams said. It doesn’t require that students qualify for free or reduced lunch to participate, and families need to opt in to the program to receive food.

A typical bag of food includes the following: a canned fruit, vegetable, protein (such as tuna or chunk chicken), carbs (rice, oatmeal or pasta), and a chili, soup or stew. The Sheridan Story does not include junk food or snacks such as ramen noodles.

“It’s more expensive the way we do it, but I don’t think it’s helpful to send food that people don’t want to eat,” Williams said. “It’s all food that I would or do have in my own house.”

Nicole Warner has two kids at Farnsworth who utilize the program. Warner said her kids love the program, adding that they will eat the fruits they receive from Sheridan Story but not the fruits to which they typically have access.

The organization relies on the local sponsors to help finance the program at each school. It takes care of all the logistics, allowing the volunteers to build relationships in the schools.

“It’s a very smooth program,” said Laura Saatzer, principal of Farnsworth Aerospace Magnet School in St. Paul. “It’s something that we know that (families) are really counting on.”

About 100 Farnsworth students utilize the program, Saatzer said. Volunteers come to the school each Friday and discreetly put the food in the kids’ backpacks, helping the families fill the weekend food gap.

“In order for kids to be really ready to learn, they have to have those basic needs met,” Saatzer said. “We can work really hard to teach them, but if they aren’t properly nourished, that’s a problem.”

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The Sheridan Story

Location: 740 Hardin St. NE Suite B

Contact: 612-568-4003 or info@thesheridanstory.com

Website: thesheridanstory.com

Year Founded: 2010

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By the Numbers:

— 91: Number of schools in the Twin Cities served by The Sheridan Story.

— 3,800: Approximate number of Twin Cities students who receive weekend food bags each week.

— 500,000: Number of meals The Sheridan Story had distributed to students as of February since it launched in 2010.

— $130: Cost for The Sheridan Story to provide food to one student for a year, which covers approximately 134 meals.

— 100,000: Number of Twin Cities kids facing food insecurity, meaning they lack access to enough affordable and nutritious food.

— 5: Approximate number of items in each Sheridan Story food bag, including a canned fruit, vegetable, protein, base and stew, soup or chili.

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What you can do:

  • Sponsor your local school. “That’s the most direct and significant impact that anyone can have on child hunger in their community,” said Sheridan Story executive director Rob Williams. School sponsors oversee the school’s relationship with the Sheridan Story, provide funding for a portion of program costs in the school and provide volunteers to distribute food bags to children at the school. For more info go to the thesheridanstory.com/sponsor-a-school.
  • Host a food drive. The Sheridan Story has resources on its website to help people implement a successful food drive. Go to thesheridanstory.com/food-drive.
  • Donate at The Sheridan Story website with a check, via United Way or another payroll program. Find more details at thesheridanstory.com/donate.

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About the Where We Live project

This project is an ongoing series spearheaded by Journals’ publisher Janis Hall showcasing Minneapolis nonprofits doing important work in the community. The editorial team has selected organizations to spotlight. Nate Gotlieb is the writer on the project. To read previous features, go to southwestjournal.com/section/where-we-live