New district food pickup site in Eden Prairie
By Molly Patil, Olivia Antilla, and Reta Johnson at Eden Prairie Schools and Joe Skelly at Every Meal
Eden Prairie Schools has been a long-time Every Meal partner. We’ve partnered for several years through our Weekend Meal Program to help provide students with food over the weekend. Students enrolled in the program receive a food bag containing 4-5 pounds of good food that is nutritious, delicious, and relevant discreetly in their backpacks, typically on Fridays throughout the school year.
Last school year, Eden Prairie Schools added a new way to reach students and families. The district office began receiving Every Meal food bags for students and families to pick up as a way to reduce barriers in food access they were seeing and make receiving food easier. It was wildly successful, so we checked in with Olivia Antilla, Reta Johnson, and Molly Patil – the three dedicated staff administering the program to hear how it’s going this school year.
Of special note is that this school year, Every Meal has been experiencing a 34% increase in kids signing up to receive food support over the weekend, exceeding our expected 17% increase. This has led to hard decisions in order to prioritize filling the weekend gap for kids through our Weekend Meal Program. Upon hearing this, Reta felt inspired to help. She submitted a donation request to Eden Prairie SCHEELS, a sporting goods retailer that was looking for a good local cause to support. They were awarded $15,000 to go towards Every Meal. This donation went right to work supporting the district food pickup site in Eden Prairie Schools.
Every Meal (EM): Now in it’s second school year, how has the district food pickup site evolved?
Eden Prairie Schools (EPS): We have seen the program evolve in the growing number of families now aware of and using the program. We had a couple of goals from the start. First, we wanted the program to be available to all families, including those whose students don’t attend a school with a traditional Weekend Meal Program, like our EP online school. We also knew that secondary students are less likely to take home this food, so we wanted parents to be able to pick up Every Meal food bags on behalf of their children. We wanted to remove external barriers to accessing the program. Adding this district-wide pickup site has provided a great option to stay anonymous since it does not require families to sign up. With flyers, word of mouth, and online information, we have seen many families use the program when they are in need of some extra food. Last school year (from October 2021 – May 2022), we handed out over 4,000 food bags and another 1,500 food bags during the summer.
EM: We are partnering together in the mission of “fighting child hunger.” What does that mean to you?
EPS: If we can do our part in providing a program where there is no shame or judgment, different available times, and varying food options, then we are helping to combat child hunger. No child should have to wonder when their next meal is coming. And helping parents and/or guardians reduce the stress of gaining better access to healthy food is key. We are thrilled that we can provide this program to families within their own community and are grateful to partner with Every Meal to provide tangible and needed support.
EM: Can you share a unique or impactful interaction you’ve had?
EPS – Reta: Helping hand out food bags from Every Meal has been a highlight of my year as an Eden Prairie Schools employee. As the district’s Family Resources Specialist and Homeless and Foster Care Liaison, it has been an incredible resource to have food on hand for families facing food insecurity. It is nice for once to have something tangible on site to help families immediately until they can access other community resources for more food support. Many of the families that have picked up food are the same families we see week after week. We have gotten to the point of knowing which families like which food bags. For example, mung beans have been a huge hit for some families. We’ve been able to develop relationships with these families and hear their struggles, many saying that this is the first time they have had to access support. We love hearing families say how much the extra food has supported them; some even say it has been a lifesaver.