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Tiger Packs, Food for Thought

Tiger Packs - Tela Ebersole
Emma Rellergert ’12 holds up a sample Tiger Pack.

On a Monday morning in the classroom, nothing seems worse than a growling stomach. For some, however, in the Grinnell-Newburg school district this is a common occurrence, which has led to the origins of Tiger Packs, a program that works to supply food over the weekend to students who are on the free and reduced meal plan.

“Last year, 35.8 percent of all students in the district were on the free and reduced meal programs,” according to Emma Rellergert ’12, a Grinnell College alum and AmeriCorps VISTA member.

Among this portion of the school population, Tiger Packs serves students who are identified as food-insecure by teachers and school staff. Based off a similar program in Des Moines called Backpack Buddies, Tiger Packs was started in February 2013 in response to concerns that a handful of students in the school district were demonstrating negative effects of hunger.

“A lot of the teachers were noticing that students, … [who] have access to the school breakfast and school lunch, but on the weekends don’t have access to those programs, would come in on Monday and just be super … hungry and not able to concentrate,” Rellergert explained.

This knowledge inspired a former AmeriCorps VISTA Member to create a service project for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“[The member] decided instead of just doing a one day service she would take that initiative to start this program … designed to supplement the free and reduced meal program,” Rellergert said.

So, what exactly are in these Tiger Packs? A standard Tiger Pack consists of the following: an instant oatmeal, a microwaveable Easy Mac, a fruit cup, a cup of apple sauce, a pudding cup, crackers, a granola bar, a cereal bar, a to-go package of peanut butter and a juice box. Comprised of non-perishable, healthy foods, these packages not only have an abundance of nutritional value, but are also designed to be accessible to younger kids.

Tiger Packs are packaged during the week and delivered to the district schools, such as Bailey Park Elementary, Fairview Elementary and Davis Elementary, on Friday mornings. Once the Tiger Packs are delivered to the office, school staff members usually collect and place them in students’ backpacks while classrooms are empty. The program is intent on maintaining anonymity, making sure not to cast unnecessary attention on participating students.

“Before we begin with a student, we send a permission slip home to the family just to let them know about the program and we’ve gotten, I think, almost a 100 percent response rate,” Rellergert said. “I think that’s an indication that among the families, it’s fairly well-received.”

This support from families and community members has allowed the program to expand at a fast rate—it has even begun to incorporate the middle schools in the Grinnell-Newburg district.

“When we started last year, we had 12 kids on the program [in] total. And I think we had 20 by the end of the school year, and now we’re up to 61,” Rellergert said.

Several Grinnell College students have been helping with the program as well and are working to increase awareness of Tiger Packs on campus.

One of the program’s volunteers, Angela Bowles ’16, got involved with Tiger Packs through participation in a social justice group on campus called, “What the World Needs Now Is…”

“I think it’s definitely a great way to partner with the schools and ensure that these kids are getting the nutrition they need over the weekend because they don’t have a program that supports them over the weekend like they do during the week. So, I just think it’s a great program to get involved [with],” she said.

However, despite the growth of the program and positive feedback from the community, Rellergert expressed concerns regarding long-term goals for Tiger Packs.

“There is no VISTA [member] lined up to work next year, so we’re trying to figure out how to make the program sustainable,” Rellergert explained.

She hopes that an advisory council can be formed to continue the program down the road, regardless of affiliation with AmeriCorps. However, she also has immediate plans on continuing Tiger Packs throughout the summer.

“It’s cool to be a part of a program that has short term immediate effects,” Rellergert said, who strongly encourages anyone interested in the program to volunteer. “But you also feel like you are doing something—that you are a part of something bigger.”

Tiger Packs - Tela Ebersole
Tiger Packs contain kid-friendly, nutritious foods.


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