On any given day, an estimated 300,000 Minnesota children do not have regular access to enough food for basic health and nutrition. Despite Eden Prairie being a relatively affluent community, our city’s children are no exception.
In response, Eden Prairie Schools (EPS) teamed up in October with a Roseville-based program called Every Meal to help tackle food insecurity in our city’s children and families.
Each week, Every Meal delivers pallets of food packages consisting of non-perishable meal ingredients or ready-to-eat items to Eden Prairie and other communities willing to distribute it.
These packages are intended to prevent food insecurity in children when they don’t have access to their school’s free and reduced meals. This includes evenings, weekends and school vacations, as well as students doing online school.
Currently, 17.6% of EPS’ 8,850 early childhood through 12th grade students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. However, it should be noted that lunch is free for all students this school year, so this number only reflects how many have completed the application and qualified.
The Every Meal packages are designed to help provide a cushion for these students.
“This food is coming to us completely for free. All we have to do is provide the manpower to distribute it,” says Reta Johnson, family resources specialist and homeless liaison at EPS Community Education.
Johnson helps organize and run the distribution hub at the EPS Administrative Service Center.
Families with children aged up to 18 and EPS students, including those in the Tassel Transition Program, can come pick up food packages once a week on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings. As of Dec. 10, EPS has given out 1,253 packages of food.
EPS was already working with Every Meal to provide food for elementary school students to take home on weekends in their backpacks. However, Johnson says many families in need haven’t taken advantage of it because they feel there’s a stigma about asking for help.
Many also don’t want to share the personal information required to get this food.
“That is an awesome program that has helped us so much through the years,” Johnson said. “But during COVID, Eden Prairie families who have never needed help now need help and are hesitant about asking for it. So we wanted a district-wide model where families could just pull up in their car, say how many bags of food they need and then we don’t ask for any names or information.”
Every Meal has made it as easy as possible for families to participate. There is no income requirement or registration. Food is available to every child regardless of participation in other food programs.
People do not need to bring their students and children along with them in the car and can designate a neighbor, friend, or relative to pick up on their behalf.
This flexible pickup system and lack of a registration requirement have enabled EPS and Every Meal to reach more children in a wider age range.
For instance, Johnson says that in the past, “it has been very hard to help teens anonymously and discreetly. Most don’t want their peers to see they’re taking extra food home.”
To families in need who may still hesitate to take advantage of this program, Johnson says, “This food pickup is extremely anonymous and confidential. We would love for families to come and get food one week, try it out, and see if it’s something that is going to help their family. More so now than ever, we have families in a transitional period in their lives, needing extra support, especially because of COVID.”
Five different types of pre-packaged grocery bags are offered. Each contains 4 to 5 pounds of non-perishable food such as canned fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, and soups/entrees.
Options are tailored and identified by different colors:
- Blue bag: Tailored for East African dietary preferences (no pork);
- Orange bag: Tailored for Latino dietary preferences;
- Purple bag: Tailored for Southeast Asian dietary preferences;
- Yellow bag: Ready-to-eat items requiring little or no preparation;
- Green bag: Widest variety of food items with no specific dietary preferences.
While some families choose bags based on cultural preferences, Johnson says many appreciate the range of items. It is an opportunity to try different types of food and vary their diet.
To pick up food (click here for the link), families simply drive to the Administrative Service Center, 8100 School Road, and follow signs to the back of the building.
Food is distributed from Door 4 of the historic gym from 4–6 p.m. every Thursday and 8–10 a.m. every Friday.
Bags will not be distributed Dec. 23-24, so families may pick up two weeks’ worth of food the week before. Distribution will be available again on Dec. 30-31.
“All of the families we have worked with have been so kind and appreciative,” Johnson said. “I recently had a mom with her teenage son in the passenger seat tell me that the food had been such a lifesaver to them. That really warmed my heart as that was the first time I had heard such a big statement like that, of how much of an impact the food could be on some of our families with children.”