St. Olaf effort aims to feed 75 children

Published 4:49 am Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Marie Cano, from left, Darlys Smith and Jan Krambeer are photographed next to donations from the St. Olaf Lutheran Church congregation. The three ladies are coordinators of the St. Olaf backpack program. -- Eric Johnson/

By now, it’s no mystery that local churches are doing what they can to fight hunger in Austin.

For the past four months, one local church has been targeting hunger in the demographic that tugs at people’s hearts the most: preschoolers.

An example of the food that goes into each pack given out through the St. Olaf Lutheran Church backpack program.

“The younger you get them, the better it is,” said Darlys Smith about alleviating hunger, one of the coordinators of St. Olaf’s effort to feed 75 Head Start students, ages 3 to 5, in Austin.

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Some people clearly have a soft spot for children, especially those in need. So when the idea to help youngsters sprung among Smith, Jan Krambeer and Maria Cano, coordinators of this program at St. Olaf, they ran with it. They already knew what churches like St. John’s Lutheran were doing in the community by helping to feed students, and they were inspired. Cano’s daughter, Andrea Cano Forte, offered extra inspiration, and the avenue in which they could start their own program. Cano Forte works in the Head Start program. She saw the need.

“We all know that if a child is going without hunger, they function better in school,” Cano Forte said, who has seen a difference in children’s learning, behavior and heard praise from parents.

After a trial run as a Channel 1-sanctioned organization that feeds a specific area of the community, St. Olaf Lutheran received approval through Channel 1 to continue its efforts.

“We have to pay Channel 1,” Smith said. “But the cost is less because of Channel 1.”

In the basement of St. Olaf, a medium-size room houses a massive collection of fruit cups, cereal, bread, canned pasta and more. Seventy-five youngsters may not seem like the hungriest people in the world, but they sure go through a lot of food. Just ask Krambeer.

“Seventy-five is a lot,” she said.

Krambeer, Smith and Cano are among more than a dozen people who separate the food every Wednesday morning so others can fill bags for each student that afternoon. The students receive their bags every Thursday during class, and the goal is to feed those students and their siblings over the weekend.

Though this week’s shipment had already left St. Olaf, one could picture how a massive pile would form again next week.

“If everything goes as it usually does, by next Sunday it will be overflowing,” Krambeer said about the bin that holds the pile of bags every Wednesday afternoon.

These three women at St. Olaf and the several other volunteers can’t simply make the program work on their own. In fact, the entire process has become much larger than they initially expected.

A handful of subcommittees within the church offer support toward the mission, and even more organizations in the community have pledged massive support, including Perkins, Target, Hy-Vee, the Hormel Foundation, the Austin Area Foundation and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans (the first to offer support).

“We are just so grateful for the support we’ve had,” Cano said.

It may not be feasible for the program to assist more students than it already does; however, the volunteers still want to do more. Stuffing each bag a little fuller may be the way to do that.

“We’ll try to do better,” Smith said, “do more.”

In the meantime, organizations out there are setting aside cases of fruit cups and ravioli, bags of bread and cereal, giving what they can.

“You don’t know what 6 pounds, 4 ounces of crackers means to us,” Krambeer said.

To continue to play the role of middleman and woman — a much more significant one in the community — these volunteers pray for that continued support.

Jan Krambeer, from left, Darlys Smith and Marie Cano, coordinators of the St. Olaf Lutheran Church backpack program show what goes into each pack they they hand out.