United Way, partners sponsor Project Lunch Box

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Brown County United Way Finance Coordinator Sarah Lee shows off the space set aside for Project Lunch Box in the New Ulm Event Center.

NEW ULM — The United Way of Brown County hosted an open house event for Project Lunch Box, Thursday.

Project Lunch Box is a weekend food program for kids Kindergarten through fourth grade in the New Ulm School District. Last year in the New Ulm Public school system 265 students in K-4th grade qualified for free/reduced lunches. This number does not include charter or parochial schools, but they are invited to participate. 

Through the program, food will be packed and delivered to schools for kids who qualify for the free/reduced lunches. The food packages will be discreetly placed in a child’s backpack on Friday to be taken home and used over the weekend. The packages will include two meals and two snacks for each child. 

Brown County United Way Director Lori Pickell-Stangel said New Ulm had never had a weekend food program for kids before because of the program size. 

Other communities in Brown County have fewer students on the free/reduced lunch program, which allowed other organizations to organize and fund a weekend food program.

In 2017, Pickell-Stangel called the New Ulm public schools and found at least 265 students qualified for free/reduce lunch programs. For comparison, Sleepy Eye had 20 students who qualified.

“We needed Christiansen Farms and New Ulm Rotary to make this happen,” Pickell-Stangel said.

The United Way staff, along with New Ulm Rotary members, wrote a $5,000 Rotary district grant to help pay for the costs to outfit and set up space in the New Ulm Event Center to house and operate the program. 

Christiansen Farms agreed to serve as United Way’s program partner to help facilitate the program through the 2019-2020 school year. 

Several members of Christensen Farms attended the opening house to show support.

Communications Director Amber Portner said Christensen Farms has a long-standing relationship with United Way and Project Lunch Box translated directly into the company’s mission.

Christensen Farms Director of Public Affairs JoDee Haala said it can be easy to forget there are kids going without food, or think it’s a problem in the larger cities, but it is in New Ulm, too.

Christensen Farms CEO Glenn Stolt said they are dedicated to growing food to feed the world and to do it in a sustainable way, which often comes down to affordability.

Pickell-Stangel said in the early stages of planning Program Lunch Box, the cost of it was estimated at $4 per child, per week, for the school year. With potentially 300 children applying to the program, the United Way was uncertain how to fund the program. Through membership with Second Harvest Heartland, the United Way can get the cost reduced to between $1.50 and $2 per child. Second Harvest Heartland will work with Christensen Farms to facilitate the program. 

Pickell-Stangel also thanked Jensen Motors for an early donation of $1,000 to the program. 

Going forward, Project Lunch Box will have a continuing need for volunteers to help package food items. United Way is also looking for a volunteer manager of the program.

Those interesting in volunteering may call the United Way or visit the United Way website.

Project Lunch Box will begin with the start of the new school year. Any student currently receiving a free or reduced lunch automatically qualifies. Families may apply to the program through their school.