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From food for health to food for the mind — there’s a week of activities in Helena celebrating children and families.

While some groups are providing meals for children, others are reading books and gifting them.

Helena High School senior Abby Jones is spearheading a food drive all week at Helena High School to collect items for the school food locker.

“One in five kids in Montana suffer childhood hunger,” Jones said. And the number is one in seven in Helena.

Jones, a member of the Governor and First Lady Bullock’s Youth Leadership Council, said the group has been working on ending childhood hunger. She’s been planning this week’s activities since November.

Jones knows there’s a need.

Thirty kids at Helena High School use the food locker in the counseling office to grab items for meals, she said. And 40 students take home food for the weekend.

Typically the meals are non-perishable things like canned soup, cereals and ramen soup.

Growing up in East Helena, Jones saw schoolmates who were dealing with hunger, she said, but at that time she didn’t recognize the signs.

She and a group of HHS students are volunteering Tuesday and Thursday afternoon this week to help at God’s Love with whatever tasks are needed, including food preparation.

And on Wednesday they’re going to Helena Food Share, to help with repacking food, working in the garden, repairing a garden shed and painting a mural on it.

Also this week, Drew Briggs, an eighth grader at Helena Middle School has organized a food drive at that school.

According to the governor’s office, one in three clients of Helena Food Share is a child under the age of 18, and Helena Food Share distributes nearly 1,100 Kid Packs every week of the academic year to the area’s elementary schools for kids to take home on weekends.

On today, its GoBlue Day. People will be wearing blue to show support for strengthening families and preventing child abuse, said Trina Filan of United Way of Lewis and Clark County, which is just one of many partners putting together this week’s events.

On Tuesday, from 9 to 11 a.m., it’s Reading & Resources in the Capitol Rotunda.

Governor Steve Bullock, Sheriff Leo Dutton and other local officials will be reading books to children. There’s also a resource fair, sharing information about community resources available to families.

“Two thousand books will be distributed free at the Capitol and local preschools and childcare centers,” said Filan.

It’s also a good time to learn about Lewis & Clark Library’s 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program — to encourage parents to read to their young children. (See a full list of reading activities in breakout).

Down the road at Heritage Food Store in East Helena, there are signs about healthy foods, healthy brains and child literacy, said Filan.

Wear Orange Wednesday is a day to raise awareness about the fight against childhood hunger, with youth-led food drives.

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Also, Sodexo, the food service company for the school district, will be providing lunches to all students at no cost on Wednesday.

Thursday is Child Care Provider Appreciation, with an ice cream social for childcare providers, preschool teachers and K-2 teachers.

The event is 6-8 p.m. at ExplorationWorks. RSVP to Child Care Partnerships at 443-4608.

Purple UP Day, Friday April 15, “is for military kids and families,” said Filan. There are 6,800 military kids in Montana. Later in the month is the Military Child Ball on April 23 at Fort Harrison from 6-8 p.m. It’s a daddy-daughter, mommy-son celebration! It’s only for people who are in the military.

This week’s activities coincide with National Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month activities taking place across Montana in April. Local events kicked off Friday with a Pinwheels for Prevention Parade at Jefferson School.

Pinwheels for Prevention is a national public awareness campaign built around the symbol of the pinwheel — a happy and uplifting symbol of childhood. It conveys the message that every child deserves the chance to be raised in a healthy, safe, and nurturing environment.

Thousands of blue pinwheels have been planted on the Capitol’s front lawn and around Helena.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reports that it completed 8,900 investigations of child abuse and neglect involving nearly 13,000 children during the 2015 fiscal year. And the number of children in foster care is continuing to climb, with 3,126 children in foster care as of March. This is the highest number of kids in care in over the past 16 years.

Partners for this week of events: include Early Childhood Coalition of the Greater Helena Area, the Montana Children’s Trust Fund, No Kid Hungry Montana, the Montana Association of the Education of Young Children: Helena Chapter, the Montana National Guard’s Child and Youth Program, Rocky Mountain Development Council, Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies: the Montana Coalition, the Lewis & Clark Library, Grandstreet Theatre, local artist Kelly Anne Dalton, the YMCA, United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area, Heritage Food Store in East Helena and more than 20 downtown businesses.

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Reporter Marga Lincoln can be reached at 447-4083 marga.lincoln@helenair.com

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