PINE RIVER AREA —  Uplift Pine River Area Kids, a new program to help provide meals for qualifying students during the weekends, will begin its first distribution Friday, Sept. 21, at the school.

A bag including six non-perishable easy-to-prepare meals and six snacks will be given to the students each Friday throughout the rest of the school year. This will help supplement meals for students when they aren't receiving meals in school.

Ellen Anderson, a retired teacher from Pine River Area Schools, is in charge of the program.

"We hope to feed 150 students K-12," she said, adding that out of a school population of 1,037 students, 44 to 47 percent live in rural poverty, and 563 students receive free or reduced meals at school. "The distribution of food isn't one bag per household, but if there are three students in a family, each child will get a bag. The food selection will contribute to a balanced diet."

The program is funded by grants and donations, which Anderson hopes will continue to come in as the school year progresses. The food is housed in the Tustin Covenant Presbyterian Church but the program is not affiliated with the church or the school district.

"We started this plan a year ago to address the high rural poverty rate in the Pine River area," she said. "We cannot adequately prepare students for their future without meeting their immediate needs. Studies show if people are deprived of food, their health, education and social life are more apt to suffer. Rural poverty is the worst kind of poverty, with families living so far out, they don't always have a car or gas to get to a food bank. I hope this program will help alleviate the issue."

The child qualifies if parents are already involved with food assistance programs, if the student receives free or reduced lunch and if there is a food emergency in the home.