When a group of Indian Prairie Unit District 204 students set out to "Kick Hunger," they knew just who to turn to: the fourth-most accurate kicker in NFL history, Robbie Gould of the Bears.
For the second consecutive year, students at Metea and Neuqua Valley high schools are partnering with Gould's charity, The Goulden Touch, to raise meals for the Northern Illinois Food Bank's Backpack Program.
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The program provides children at risk of hunger with a weekend's supply of child-friendly, nutritious food, such as cereal, peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, whole grain pasta, canned fruits and vegetables, and low-sodium soup. The food provides two breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the child and up to two siblings.
"I believe we all need to do our part to get young students involved in volunteerism and teach them to understand the needs in our community," Gould said Tuesday. "Right now, one in five children in our community suffer from hunger issues and that's a huge number. We need to decrease that as much as we can."
The Northern Illinois Food Bank partners with more than 700 programs across 13 counties to provide nutritious food to hungry neighbors. The food bank's Backpack program reaches an average 2,000 kids each week in 133 schools and provided 1 million meals last year. Roughly 34,000 of them were packed by Gould and District 204 students.
"Raising 34,000 meals was a great benchmark for our first year, but I've seen the enthusiasm these students are getting after this with," Gould said. "We're going to blow that number up this year."
Last year, Gould visited the schools to pump the students up and get them excited for the cause. This year, however, he took several students to volunteer for 90 minutes at the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva.
"I thought it was important to let the students tour the food bank and give their time to bag food and package perishable items," Gould said. "They were so excited that they packed, in one shift, what volunteers pack in a day. It was amazing."
Donna Lake, spokeswoman for the food bank, said the students' "teenage energy" was inspiring a they worked.
"The students totally embraced 'Kicking Hunger' so it was fun to see how engaged they are in raising awareness and food for kids in need," Lake said. "Their involvement helps us increase the profile of youth hunger with a young demographic that otherwise may not have been aware that hunger exists in their community."
Students at Neuqua Valley began collecting food and monetary donations on Sept. 16 and will continue through Oct. 4. Metea Valley students will begin collecting donations on Monday and also continue through Oct. 4.