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According to the Nebraska Department of Education accountability and support system AQuESTT (Accountability for a Quality Education System, Today and Tomorrow), Norfolk Public Schools has been classified as “good” for the 2019-20 school year.

There was a rather troubling exchange heard during the football game that I covered last weekend that needs to be addressed.

As the Norfolk Public Schools district grows, the Norfolk chapter of Blessings in a Backpack continues to expand alongside it, said program coordinator Julie Robinson.

“For the first year ever, we’ll have over 300 kids a week with Little Panthers Preschool,” she said. “Because of their program size, they’ll grow significantly.”

The school opened the doors of a new preschool — the renovated building of what was previously Our Savior Lutheran Church — this academic year, with 215 students enrolled.

Growth also has been seen districtwide, with a 12% increase in student enrollment since 2010. This year there are 4,535 students enrolled, according to a district financial summary provided by Dr. Jami Jo Thompson, superintendent.

This means the mission of the Norfolk Blessings in a Backpack, providing a weekly bagful of food to kids from preschool to fourth grade, is even more ambitious this year. This is the program’s seventh year, and it will be serving 310 students.

Each bag contains shelf-stable milk and seven or eight other food items, including ravioli, easy mac, crackers and fruit snacks. “We try to mix up the menu,” Robinson said. School staff members help distribute the bags every Friday during the school year for students to have food throughout every weekend.

“A lot of these kids are eating breakfast and lunch five days a week, not enough to make them comfortable,” Robinson said.

As the program has grown, so has her approach. Instead of purchasing locally and packaging the food herself, she orders food that comes shipped in pallets. “It makes it awesome that we can grow quickly.”

What’s also helped the program is community support, she said. Volunteers and donations have both made the program possible, even as there’s more need and the costs of food and freight rise.

The United Way also provides about 25% of annual operating costs, which will be about $50,000 this year, and it lends credibility to the organization that it otherwise might not have.

“(United Way) provides some credibility for a little organization,” Robinson said. “Other granting organizations and people gift me because the United Way stands behind us.”

She knows Blessings in a Backpack makes a difference when she hears from the teachers who work with students in need.

“The people we hear from the most are the teachers,” she said. “It’s because they know those kids. They know about them and they care, we give something to provide for those kids. It gives them one thing less to worry about.”

Robinson said money given to the United Way has a direct impact on the community of Norfolk, with 99 cents of every dollar directly benefiting the community.

“Sometimes it’s scary to give your money to a big organization ... supporting United Way is truly giving back to support,” she said. “The dollars that are given away go to a kid.”

What services does your agency provide, and who generally does it serve? During the 2019-20 school year, Blessings in a Backpack will provide weekend food packs to more than 300 preschool and elementary school students in Norfolk. Every Friday during the school year, each student in the program takes home a bag with eight or nine food items to help sustain them over the weekend.

In what way does the United Way assist you? The United Way provides funding for our program and helps legitimize our organization. I am able to apply for additional grants from other organizations because I am a United Way agency.

What percentage of your budget does the United Way fund? The United Way will provide about 25% of the funding we need to operate this year.

What are some new or ongoing needs that your agency is facing? With the expansion of Little Panthers Preschool, there are more preschool students than ever who will need Blessings in a Backpack. For the first time, since our inception seven years ago, we will be serving more than 300 students each week.

If your agency did not receive United Way funds, how would it impact your ability to serve others? We wouldn't have the ability to grow with the need.

What's a brief anecdote about how your agency has had an impact on the community as a whole or an individual who has been served? Blessings in a Backpack provides the only food some of these students have for the weekend. We hear regularly from teachers and counselors that students remind them not to forget their food. The beginning of the school year is especially hard. We try to get the students qualified and the food delivered as quickly as possible, because they don't have access to it over the summer.

There’s nothing wrong with a little feel-good story that comes along with a win by the Big Red. Air Force transfer, walk-on defensive back, Norfolk native and whatever else you want to use to describe him — Lane McCallum — delivered just that.

“Honk if you’re over it." That’s the sign placed just north of the Highway 57 bridge south of Stanton that southbound drivers can see when crossing the newly reopened bridge.

This is a good fall for getting summer jobs wrapped up around the farm which is a comfort because other than that small consolation it’s turning out to be one of the worst falls Nebraska farmers have ever seen.

The following area bankruptcies were filed in U.S. Court, District of Nebraska. Reprinted by permission from the Daily Record of Omaha.

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OAKLAND — Brook Diekemper led West Point-Beemer on its way to the Class C state girls golf tournament in North Platte next week.

Kearney used its superior size and athleticism to outgun Norfolk in straight sets on Tuesday 25-21, 28-26, 25-19 in Heartland Athletic Conference action at the Norfolk Senior High gym.

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