Chatfield High School National Honor Society members, from left, Mikaela Bray, Mariah Pederson, Camille Rasmussen and Justin Friedrich, present a check to Denise Pagel, coordinator of the backpack food program which supplies weekend food to families with elementary students. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Chatfield High School National Honor Society members, from left, Mikaela Bray, Mariah Pederson, Camille Rasmussen and Justin Friedrich, present a check to Denise Pagel, coordinator of the backpack food program which supplies weekend food to families with elementary students. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
The Chatfield National Honor Society has donated $400 to fight growling.

Denise Pagel, coordinator of the local backpack food program - which distributes weekend food staples to Chatfield students in kindergarten through sixth grade - gladly accepted the donation to the program from the NHS.

National Honor Society advisor Janet Bren explained, "We realize that there are many people who do not have enough food to eat, and we believe that it is important for us to help them. No one in our area should have to go to bed hungry."

Pagel stated, "We all know that eating healthy is expensive. This donation, as well as all the others, is helping us to provide more nutritious meals and snacks to our children in the program. These donations are what make this program sustainable."

The NHS students held their annual fundraising efforts - this year a "Hoops for Hunger" basketball event - to benefit area food shelves.

Bren explained, "The backpack food program came along after we had begun raising money. We usually split our proceeds between the Fillmore County Food Shelf and Channel One in Olmsted County. When we found out about a local program, we chose to donate to them in hopes of helping them get their program established. We know that $400 can go a long way in helping feed others."

Pagel was more than surprised at the check that student Liz Hisey presented to the program, even though she knew that Hisey would be bringing a check to Chatfield United Methodist Church, where the food is stored.

"When Liz called me about wanting to help pack weekend food bags, she mentioned the NHS was making a donation to our program, but I was surprised that it was $400 and from our students at Chosen Valley High School. Absolutely surprised! We are so proud of the students for their generosity."

The funds supplement the food the program obtains through food donations and an order received from Channel One Food Bank.

"While we appreciate all the food that is donated on a regular basis, we are not always given enough to fill the bags each week with just the right portion for each family," Pagel added. "Therefore, the money is used to supplement to donated foods so each family receives a balanced and adequate food portion each weekend, as monetary donations help us shop for items not available on the Channel One website, such as Tuna or Chicken Helper, vegetables and fruit. We also watch for sales on these items. Also, the availability of products changes weekly or monthly through Channel One."

Pagel also explained that gifts are what make this program sustainable and a community-wide program. The church is merely the place where the food is stored and assembled.

"The volunteer hours and donations from the community are what make this program something of which we can all be proud," she added.

Donations have also come from Curt Sorenson's American Family insurance agency in the form of weekend food bags, Roy's Barbershop as snaps on the bags, apple packs from Subway, Girl Scout cookies from Chatfield's seventh grade Girl Scout Troop 40370, cases of vegetables from Matt Hanson, boxes of food from Pioneer Presbyterian Church and monetary donations from almost all of the non-profits and community clubs in town.

"This generous donation from the young people in our community, the National Honor Society, just proves to us that we don't have anything to be concerned about," Pagel said. "We believe in the program's worth and in the community's support. As long as there is a need in Chatfield, we see this program continuing because others in the community want our children to be healthy and ready to learn."

Pagel feels the weekend food program has gone well since it began late this past winter. "Weekly, we serve 19 families, or 32 children. It has opened doors to being in service, in our own backyard."

Though she would like to someday pilot a summer backpack delivery program or perhaps a summer lunch program, the resources are not yet in place.

"We are hoping we can partner with others to make this happen next summer," Pagel said.

Furthermore, she stated the biggest reward of coordinating the backpack food program has come in the simplest of forms. She found a note inside one of the bags from a child enrolled in the program. "The note said, 'Thank you for the food,' and was signed. I still have it," she said.

Pagel is also proud of the conversation this program has created in the community about the need to make sure children and their families have nutritious food available.

In addition to supporting the local food distribution program, the Chatfield honor students have also given their time to other efforts.

Bren explained, "We also have a clothing drive at school for the students. We gather clothing, separate it by gender and size, and then bring it in for students who could use some clothes. The clothes are free, and the students can pick whatever they want for themselves and anyone in their family."

Additionally, the National Honor Society chapter has collected pop tabs and given those to the Ronald McDonald House, shopped for the Community Christmas Project and helped pack tubs to be delivered to the families, worked at the Purple Stride Pancreatic Cancer event, at the Chosen Bean concerts, served food at the Senior Christmas Dinner, and plans to work at the children's carnival on May 12.

"It's a privilege and an honor to be a member of NHS. Students are required to maintain the four pillars of NHS, which include scholarship, leadership, service, and character," Bren said. "Focusing on these four areas helps us be the best people we can be. It's great to be a member of NHS, and we welcome the opportunity to help others."

Bren is proud of her NHS students, and she said exactly that. "As an adviser to NHS, I am extremely proud of these students for the time they donate to help others. It is difficult to balance academics, extra-curricular activities, and NHS projects, but these students manage to do it and do it with a smile on their faces. They are a great group of people, and I feel privileged to work with them."

Pagel concluded by extending her appreciation to the students and to everyone who has donated or given assistance in making the food program possible.

"We have some amazing youth in our community," she said. "Our students deserve to be recognized for their thoughtfulness and generosity. I'd also like to thank the Student Senate group for distributing food bags to the classrooms weekly and special thanks to Sara Duxbury for coordinating this effort."