ST. CLOUD – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sow economic uncertainty, one area nonprofit is working to insure area children aren’t wondering where they will find their next meal.

Feeding Area Children Together, or FACT, provides food on a weekly basis for students in grades K-8 who are experiencing hunger outside of school.  Founder Sara Greenburg-Hassan says the idea for FACT was devised at her dinner table.

“My kindergartner asked me if taking food from the garbage can was stealing,” she explained. “We talked about it for a little bit, and I realized that he’s seen that in his school cafeteria – a child took food from the garbage can and was reprimanded and told to throw it away.”

“After a conversation about childhood hunger, my then-second grader turned to me and asked, ‘so what are we going to do about this?” she added.

Greenburg-Hassan, who was then seven months pregnant with her fourth child, had no intentions of starting a full-scale nonprofit.

“The issue really sat on my conscience,” she said. “So, I started to talk to principals and teachers at local schools, and I realized this hunger problem was way bigger than I imagined it to be. One in five children in central Minnesota has no idea where their next meal will come from.”

Today, FACT feeds around 400 kids every week throughout the school year. The organization serves students in six St. Cloud schools: North and South Junior High, and Talahi, Discovery, Madison and Lincoln Elementary Schools. They also serve students at Pleasantview Elementary in Sauk Rapids and Rice Elementary in Rice.

“The program has grown rapidly,” she said. “But, there’s still a huge need out there that we’re not reaching, but hopefully we’ll get there.”

Greenberg-Hassan says "FACT Packs" are the same for every child each week and contain one breakfast, lunch and snack for each day school is not in session. Food items come from a food service provider and are selected based on nutritional value.

“That way, we can insure our cereals are low sugar and high grain,” she explained. “Our snacks are high protein, and everything is shelf-stable and sealed.”

In a typical year, the organization also runs “food pantries” in schools. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, food pantry items are now boxed up by volunteers and delivered to area porches.

“Those are more family-style foods to help an entire family facing a food emergency or crisis,” she explained.

Greenberg-Hassan says children and families do not have to meet any particular income-based criteria in order to participate.

“We believe that if a parent is asking for food for their children, they probably need it,” she said. “That’s good enough for us. However, since we’re working out of schools, the majority of kids find us through a recommendation from a teacher, school social worker, counselor or principal. These are mostly kids the school has identified as needing food assistance.”

When it comes to the distribution process, Greenberg-Hassan says volunteers try to be discreet.

“During lunchtime or recess, our volunteers would go into kids’ lockers and put them right in their backpacks and zip them up,” she said. “The child wouldn’t really know until they got home that they had a backpack in there.”

FACT has added about 100 kids to the program this year, which Greenberg-Hassan attributes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At Madison alone, our highest number of kids was 60 a week,” she said. “Right now, we’re close to 80, and it’s early in the year. We know this will expand even more.”

In addition to feeding students in schools, FACT volunteers deliver food each day to students participating in distance learning.

“So we drop their backpacks on the porch, ring the doorbell or knock and run away,” she said. “That’s a huge change for us. Our volunteers used to be in the hallways, and now they’re driving around with boxes.”

FACT is currently aiming to raise $14,000, thanks in part to a temporary matching gift of $7,000 from an anonymous donor. Greenberg-Hassan says the organization is about $5,000 away from meeting that goal.

“The total with the match would feed our biggest school, Madison Elementary, for a full school year,” she said. "Anyone donating should just mention the $7,000 match."

To learn more about FACT, and for information on how to donate to the campaign, visit their website.