Backpacks filled by volunteers sit in shopping carts at the Antigo Food Pantry, prior to distribution to Antigo students.

The Antigo Food Pantry has been helping students with food insecurity for the last four years now, all through sending backpacks home with ready-to-eat or easy-to-prepare foods.

Each week, numerous volunteers work to fill these backpacks so they can be distributed within the Unified School District of Antigo, from October through May, every year since 2016.

Currently, the program is in full swing, serving about 250 children a week.

The backpacks are filled with vegetables, fruit, breakfast, protein and a snack.

The Weekend Backpack Program (WEB) has impacted children of all ages in all schools, including Peace Lutheran and All Saints Catholic School.

“We have received very positive feedback from teachers saying that students are now more focused in school, as well as improved attendance,” said Carolyn Kelk, WEB coordinator.

The goal is to provide nutritious support through meals for children within the Antigo School District.

WEB was initially based off of a community health needs assessment that indicated a high percentage of the children in Langlade County were on free and reduced lunch.

After the assessment, the Antigo Food Pantry worked with several businesses and organizations to help support this program.

Some of those are Aspirus Langlade Hospital, Volm Bag Company, Pick ‘n Save, Boys and Girls Club, all of the weekly packing volunteers from the community and the Community Health Foundation.

Lakeside Grocery plays a key role in the success of WEB. Kelk works with Lakeside to order the food for the program, storing the goods there if needed.

“The staff there is always very accommodating and tries to help us get the best price for food,” Kelk said.

Right now ,the only changes made due to COVID are limiting the capacity at the food pantry to 10 people per packing night, where as previously it was unlimited.

The bags are distributed for in-person students on Thursdays and for remote learners Fridays compared to previous distributions to all students in the program on Fridays.

When COVID first started last spring, the high school staff packed bags instead of going to the pantry to pack them, and the bags were distributed with the food given by the schools Fridays.

“We are very appreciative of all the volunteers that it takes to run the program,” said Kelk “We continue to strive for long term sustainability with the program.”

Each backpack, for the entire school year costs about $160. Those who would like to donate toward this cause can send donations to Antigo Community Food Pantry—WEB, 2120 Progress Blvd. P.O. Box 194, Antigo, WI 54409.

To take part in the WEB program, an application form can be found at; https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55993904e4b0d2540b6dbd92/t/5db99ee2aa85ce0c59508c89/1572445930936/WEB+enrollment+form+2019-2020.docx.pdf.

There are no income requirements to participate in the program.

Those who would like to volunteer at the Antigo Food Pantry are to visit their website at www.antigofoodpantry.com/donate-time