Saturday afternoon, snowmobilers of all ages are welcome to participate in the first annual “Food For Kids Xpress Ride,” led by local snowmobile club the Rock Island Xpress.
A program which assures children in need receive healthy food and snacks while home on weekends, Food for Kids was taken under oversight by St. Stephens United Church of Christ last May.
“The local Food for Kids program was first established in 2012 by Rev. Susan and Don Christian of Cavalary Lutheran Church,” explains program coordinator Beth Houle. “Then last year they began looking for someone else to take the program over as they intended to retire. Pastor Kyle (Carnes) brought the program to our attention and at St. Stephens, we are strong believers that we live in a community of faith and we need to continuously strive to work to serve our local community and we felt overseeing the program would fit perfectly with our vision.
“Pastor Kyle then took the idea of taking over the program to the church council and last May we officially took it on,” she adds with a smile.
Prior to coming under oversight of St. Stephens UCC, the Food for Kids program served approximately 130 area children at Washington, Kate Goodrich, Jefferson and Trinity elementary schools. Now the program serves approximately 160 per week, with the help of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Calvary Lutheran Church and First Presbyterian Church.
As Houle further explains, the program begins every year with a letter sent home from the MAPS Central Office asking parents if they would like their child involved in the Food for Kids program. The only pre-requisite is that the child is enrolled in the Free or Reduced Lunch program.
Relying strictly on donations, St. Stephens UCC volunteers purchase non-perishable items and microwaveable entrees from local grocery stores, such as Chef Boyardee products, fruit cups and juice boxes. The food items are then packaged for delivery by volunteers at all four churches, each church being assigned to a school. Once packaged, the food is then delivered to the schools mid-week. Teachers and school staff place the packages in participating students’ backpacks during times when students are otherwise occupied to maintain the anonymity of participating students.
“Each student receives 14 items at an approximate cost of $6 per student,” Houle adds.
So far this year, the program has been successful in operating based on sizeable and generous donations from the Merrill Noon Optimists, Empty Bowls Project, St. Stephens UCC, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Merrill Aerie #584 as well as many other local businesses. However, funding is now running low and Houle estimates funds will be exhausted by mid-April.
“Funds are getting low so I was so very excited and happy when I learned of the fundraiser and snowmobile ride to support us!” Houle said with a smile. “We are so very grateful they thought of us and willing to help the program and the children we serve.”
Saturday’s ride will include a poker run and kicks off with departure from DAT Bar (1404 W. Main St.) at noon. The first stop will be the Beacon Bar, followed by Tripp and Kim’s Northway Club, Gail’s Place and a visit to the Merrill Ice Drags 2018 Championship races. The final leg will head back west to Collin’s Bar and Kathy and Cal’s Club 64 before returning to DAT Bar where live music from three bands opens at 9 p.m., led off by Fon Du Lac-based Alloy Plot.
Full menu will be served at DAT Bar until 2:30 a.m.
Those who wish to participate via personal vehicle are more than welcome.
A pay-in of $10 per person will be asked of all participants. Fifty percent will be paid back in poker run prizes for top three hands and remaining funds will be donated to the Merrill Food for Kids program. Additional donations for the program will be gladly accepted.
“Right now we assist students at four local elementary schools,” Houle adds in closing. “But eventually, we would like to expand to assist students at every school in the MAPS district including Merrill High School and PRMS. One day we will assist every single child in need in our community.”