QUINCY -- It didn't take long for volunteers from Madison Park Christian Church to get into the rhythm of making sure some Quincy Public Schools students don't go hungry over the weekend.
Walking in a circle around tables, they added a can of pasta rings, a macaroni and cheese cup, oatmeal, a granola bar and snacks to a plastic bag.
The quickly accumulating filled bags are part of Kidzpacks, the newly centralized weekend food program for K-5 students who qualify for free or reduced lunches. Fifty-eight percent of K-5 students qualify for the program, but about half of the families opt out of Kidzpacks.
Several elementary schools offered similar programs in the past, and in trying to ensure all QPS K-5 students could have the opportunity, "we decided to move forward with one center for the entire district," Kidzpacks Coordinator Jessica Dedert said. "Each school kind of had their own little guidelines, their own way of doing things. This is a way to even out everything for all students."
The program also forged a partnership with the United Way of Adams County, so donation checks will be made out to United Way which holds the money for the program and does its bookkeeping.
Dedert worked with QPS Food Service Director Jean Kinder and Scott Bates with Madison Park to revamp the program which sent home 1,206 bags on Friday.
"I hope that the community can see that there are so many that need just a little help right now," Dedert said. "I hope it also brings some peace for children going home on weekends to know they will have it and can count on us to provide for them. Children just need to worry about going to school, having fun and learning. They don't need to worry about where their next meal is going to come from."
The program operates this year out of the former Madison School and will move to space in the old portion of Baldwin Intermediate School for the 2019-2020 year.
Volunteers work in the "pantry" from noon to 3 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays to pack the bags and on Friday mornings to load and deliver bags to schools and individual classrooms, but all those involved do not know which students get the bags.
"It's going to take a multitude of volunteers to accomplish this," Dedert said. "We'll be looking to groups that want to volunteer or need service hours. I'm hoping families will sign up to volunteer together."
The K-5 schools also plan to involve students either in packing the bags or helping to deliver them to classrooms as a way to build leadership skills.
Madison Park and First Union Congregational Church already have volunteered to help one Thursday a month along with the YMCA's afterschool program.
Madison Park had partnered with the former Washington School and its weekend food program, also known as Kidzpacks, for several years. With the transition to new K-5 learning communities, "we definitely still wanted to be part of serving these children in any way we can," church member Julie O'Connor said. "We want to take care of our babies."
Lucy and Kevin Peavey didn't think twice about volunteering their time.
"It's for a good cause. Who wouldn't want to pack food for kids who need food," she said. "We always have a good time, and we always pray afterward for the kids and the teachers."
Another way people can support the program is donating food or holding food drives to "pad the pantry" and reduce the cost of buying food. Suggested items include soups with easy-open tops, graham crackers, fruit cups, mashed potatoes and pudding cups.
"We ask people to keep in mind children will most likely prepare the food themselves, so cans need easy-pop lids and things need to be used in a microwave," Dedert said. "We want to make things as easy as possible for students."
Plans for developing a rotating menu for the bags, possibly four menus for something different each week in a month.
"Each bag may not look exactly the same, but all will have the same number of items and same type -- two items for breakfast, two lunch items and two snack items," Dedert said.
Beyond volunteers, the program needs financial support to succeed.
An $80 donation will fund meals for one child for the entire school year; $100 will fund meals for one child for the entire school year plus summer break.
"So far, we have never fed students over the summer, but it's something we are trying to look at doing over this summer," Dedert said.
58 percent of K-5 students qualify for free or reduced lunch rates and fees in Quincy Public Schools.
Volunteers are needed to sort, pack and deliver food bags to schools every week.
$80 will fund meals for one child for the entire school year. $100 will fund meals for one child for the entire school year plus summer break.
100 percent of donations stay in Quincy to help students, and all monetary donations are tax deductible.
Food donations are accepted at any time.
More information is available by contacting Kidzpacks by calling 630-426-9245, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, mail to P.O. Box 563, Quincy, IL 62306 and online at facebook.com/kidzpacks.