Arcadia church’s ‘Buddy Bags’ program nears 10,000 meals donated

Christ Lutheran Church in Arcadia’s Buddy Bags program, which aims to fight food insecurity in partnership with the Arcadia School District, is approaching 10,000 meals donated to first and second grade families in the community over the last three years. The program is now entirely funded by donations and gives students take-home meals each Friday.

Following the COVID pandemic, Christ Lutheran Church in Arcadia sought ways to help its community at a time people needed it most.

The church’s eight-member stewardship committee decided to allocate $18,000 to three areas in which they wanted to help the community, one being food insecurity.

Now that mission is approaching a milestone — the church’s Buddy Bag program will soon have donated 10,000 meals to first and second grade families in the Arcadia School District over the last three years.

”Sometimes we need to sit back and realize that we just did 3,500 bags this year. That’s remarkable, and it took very little effort on the back end. … I don’t think we see the amount of impact we make with just a few very small gestures,” committee member Greg Konkel told the Times last week.

Buddy Bags are food supplements given to first and second grade classrooms every other Friday during the school year. Bags include four to six items, including a meal and snacks.

Bags are delivered to each classroom and given to students by their teacher. If a child doesn’t want a bag, they can be given to other students or held for later use.

Food items are ordered from Eau Claire’s Feed My People Food Bank three times a year, and members of the church come together to pack the bags monthly.

The program started after COVID struck as the committee felt some might have issues providing food for their families with supply chain issues, employment uncertainty, poverty and quarantine requirements.

“We looked at longterm sustainability and we had a couple of teachers in the group that said, ‘You know, there’s a need in the school.’”

The program is now fully funded by donations from area companies including Randy’s Neighborhood Market, Kwik Trip, Dairyland Labs, Ashley Furniture, Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. and others, as well as personal donations from the church’s congregation.

A recent bag featured a can of corn, soup, scalloped potatoes and the kids’ favorite items in fruit snacks and PopTarts.

Masa will be in the next bag, evidence the meals help more than a student, Konkel said.

“There’s opportunity where it’s going to feed not just a child, but there’ll be a family meal within that bag.”

The school district asked the church about expanding the program to high school students, but that would be difficult, Konkel said. Still, they feel the program is helping.

“I think it’s great,” Konkel said of community initiatives to help fight poverty and food needs. “It’s a shame that we need it, but it’s a blessing that we have it.”

The church is scheduling a celebration for April to acknowledge the delivery of 10,000 meals. Hitting the number in just three years is “remarkable”, according to Konkel.

There are no plans to stop donations anytime soon, so the number of donated meals should continue to grow in coming years.

“For me, it’s just normal,” Konkel said. “It’s (10,000) a big number, but it doesn’t seem like it’s gotten that high that fast. I think we’ve just begun.”

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