- Associated Press - Monday, October 2, 2017

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - Yankton School District’s (YSD) food pantry is here for the long haul.

Formally known as Food for Thought, the pantry has been open every second and fourth Wednesday of the month at Lincoln Elementary School since last fall, the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan reported . When it began last September, it was originally supposed to run through May. After averaging 92 families every other week, however, it was kept open through the summer. About 100 families came through every two weeks, according to Allison Struck, coordinator of Feeding South Dakota BackPack Program.

“The first year was amazing,” she said. “We exceeded all expectations.”

The first few months of the food pantry served 35-40 families. When the holiday season rolled around, the pantry saw a great uptick in its number of visitors, the highest being 129 families on Nove. 30. The pantry maintained numbers higher than its fall season in the coming months.

Each family that came through received approximately 25-30 pounds of food each week the pantry was open. By the end of the first year, 57,057 pounds of food had been distributed through the pantry.

“That really blew us away,” Struck remarked.

Last Wednesday marked the first open food pantry of the school year.

Available to all families with children enrolled in the YSD, the pantry offers “guests” a wide variety of breakfast products, vegetables and fruits, breads, meats and pastries from which to choose. Volunteers assist in boxing/bagging food items and transporting it to the guests’ vehicles.

There is no charge to come to the pantry. Guests are only asked to fill out a survey with questions such as: In the past 30 days, have you ever worried that the food would run out before you could get money to buy more? Have you ever had a person in your household skip a meal or reduce the size of a meal because of lack of food? How would you grade your family’s nutritional choices?

These surveys help Feeding South Dakota to know what food to send in surplus and if more nutrition education needs to be provided.

“We started sending more produce because our guests like it,” Struck said.

Letting the guests go through the process of choosing the food themselves lends a little dignity to the process, she said, noting that she has seen an increase in the number of 16- to 18-year-olds that come through the pantry on their own.

“Going to the grocery store is something we take for granted,” she said. “For most people, you can fill your cart with whatever you want and pay for it. That’s not a reality for some of our guests.”

One of Feeding South Dakota’s partners on this endeavor is the Yankton Sack Pack program, which has since rebranded into Yankton Food for Thought. The program will officially take over the food pantry Jan. 1 with Feeding South Dakota continuing to provide the food.

“(Food for Thought) sees the pantry as an extension of the Sack Pack program,” Struck said. “If there’s a child in school who’s going hungry, there’s a good chance other members of that family are also experiencing food insecurity. (Food for Thought) sees this as another way to reach everyone in that home.”

Yankton Food for Thought has just been named a First National Bank of Omaha’s Community First Award recipient for its work, through which it will receive a $10,000 cash donation.

That work seems to rub off on the guests. Last Wednesday evening, Struck heard of one guest’s box of food tipping over as he was trying to ride away on his bicycle, but another guest in a vehicle offered to drop the box off at the man’s place of residence. Another person brought in excess produce from his garden to add to the food at the pantry.

In total, 105 families were served that night.

Struck credits many people - including her father, Lincoln Elementary Principal Paul Struck; custodians Ron Wuebben and Curt Knoll; the volunteers and members of the partner agencies, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, the Yankton County Extension Office and United Way; Arby’s; and the Federal Prison Camp - for making Food for Thought the success story that it is.

“Food for Thought has been a team effort from the beginning, and we appreciate everyone who has helped make this possible,” she said.

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Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, https://www.yankton.net/

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