Filling kids’ tummies, and fueling their active days

North Dakota elementary school’s weekend backpack program keeps hunger at bay

Sara Bilden loves to see hungry minds.

Hungry stomachs are a whole other matter.

“A couple of years ago, we started hearing stories about how some of our students didn’t have enough food at home on the weekends,” recalls Bilden, principal at Emerado Elementary Public School in Emerado, ND.

“We had a student ask one of our teachers: ‘Are you rich?’ The teacher asked: ‘What do you mean by rich, honey? Rich in love, or rich in money?’ She said: ‘Well, we have food for our cat, but sometimes we don’t have food for us.’ ”

“That just broke our hearts,” adds Bilden, “and we couldn’t think about anything else but getting these kids some food.”

At the Emerado Elementary Public School, a K-to-8 facility, 73 percent of students live in extreme poverty, and qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

And thanks to the school’s compassionate teaching staff, plus support from the nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base and the local business community, the school since October 2015 has operated an after-school backpack program for weekends, too.

On the last day of each school week, about 60 students, chosen in confidence by their teachers, bring home a backpack filled with breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks for each day of the weekend.

The initiative helps fill these kids’ tummies—and fuel their active days.

“I’m so proud of our staff and our school for sticking together and making sure everyone’s taken care of,” says Bilden, whose school’s Bulldog Basics program also meets basic needs for kids, like mittens and coats in North Dakota winters.

Enbridge is committed to improving the quality of life in communities near our projects and operations. In 2016, we invested about $275,000 in community-strengthening initiatives across North Dakota, and we recently made a $5,000 donation toward the Emerado Elementary Public School’s backpack program.

“We’ve done fundraisers for the backpack program, and we’ve had so many generous donors including Enbridge,” says Bilden. “It’s such a relief to us that these kids are getting what they need.”