FORK receives proclamation from Gov. Evers

By Vilas News-Review, Posted on May 17, 2023

This week, May 15-21, has been officially proclaimed as Feed Our Rural Kids Week by Gov. Tony Evers.

With this proclamation, the state is recognizing Feed Our Rural Kids (FORK) for its efforts to meet nutritional needs of children suffering from food insecurity at home.

“It is an honor to be recognized for the work our organization is doing in support of children from food insecure homes across the North Woods,” said FORK President Perry Pokrandt. “We are grateful to Gov. Evers for his support and Rep. Rob Swearingen for his personal efforts to facilitate this gubernatorial proclamation.”

According to Feeding America, youths younger than age 18 represent only around 21% of the state population, but nearly 40% of Wisconsinites facing hunger are children. This food insecurity disproportionately affects rural communities as residents of these communities often face higher food costs, a lack of accessible transportation, lower wages, and underemployment. With 97% of Wisconsin’s land area classified as rural by the U.S. Census definition, this means thousands of people across the state — including many children — are nutritionally underserved.

Feeding America data also shows that in northern Wisconsin, the average household income is approximately 10% lower than the average Wisconsin household which can make it even more challenging for local families to provide nutritionally balanced meals. Food insecurity can have a negative impact on youth mental and physical health, as well as academic performance.

“Rural kids living in the North Woods face many challenges not faced by the average child in Wisconsin,” explained Pokrandt. “This is why we established Feed Our Rural Kids. That is, our goal was to level the playing field for the kids challenged by food insecurity.”

“This week, the state of Wisconsin joins Feed Our Rural Kids in reflecting on the challenges facing kids and families in rural communities, particularly in northern Wisconsin, and in calling on individuals and organizations across the state to advocate for rural kids from food insecure homes,” the proclamation said.

Evers also announced in the proclamation that the 2023-’25 biennial budget proposed several important provisions to tackle food insecurity in Wisconsin and ensure kids and families in every corner of the state have access to fresh, healthy, locally sourced foods. This includes continuing the successful Food Security Initiative Program and creating a “Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids” free school breakfast and lunch program.

In addition to Pokrandt, the FORK Board of Directors includes Vice President Scott Foster, Secretary Jackie Coghlan, Treasurer Dan Beihoff, and directors Kate Ferrel, Rick Miech, Pastor Catie Ford, Kathy Schmitz, and Jean Arndt.

“FORK would not be where we are today without the support of this board of directors,” said Pokrandt. “We are also grateful to all previous board members, as well as all committee members, volunteers, and especially to our donors.”
Fourth anniversary

Coinciding with the proclamation is FORK’s fourth anniversary as an organization. Since its inception, FORK has expanded to provide help to area families through five managed food support programs, the new Family Food Helpline (888-479-FORK), and through financial support provided by the FORK Endowment to other area organizations whose mission is also to feed area youths.

In the last 12 months, FORK has provided local children with more than 10,000 meals through its FORK Cares Program, Pokrandt noted. It also has distributed more than $20,000 of food through FORK Cares Pantries, and over $5,300 of emergency nutritional support through the Meals Now Program.

The Family Food Helpline, which started last November in partnership with the Vilas and Oneida County Departments of Social Services, has directed nearly 100 local families to food support available both locally and on a state level, Pokrandt said. Since its inception through the end of 2023, the FORK Endowment will have provided a total of nearly $80,000 of financial support to area organizations whose commitment to feeding children mirrors that of FORK.

“Combined, the children of Vilas and Oneida counties are 19.86% more likely to be food insecure than other children living in Wisconsin,” he said. “This is why we created FORK, and why we are so excited to mark our fourth anniversary.

“There is so much work yet to be done — remember, kids are hungry every day.”

Feed Our Rural Kids is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization providing nutritional support to children from food insecure homes within the Northland Pines, Three Lakes, and Phelps school districts.

“FORK and our mission of helping children is a passion; that is why we have been able to impact so many kids so quickly. But we could not have done it without the support of our communities. Thank you!” Pokrandt concluded.

More information on FORK and the many programs it offers can be found at feedourruralkids.org. Individuals who would like to provide financial support to FORK’s ongoing efforts can donate online at feedourruralkids.org/donate. Financial contributions can be mailed to: Feed Our Rural Kids, 4887 Echo Ridge Dr., Eagle River, WI 54521.

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