Schools help hungry kids weekends
“They say, ‘I hate it because I’ve got to go home.’ Or they get sick here at school and don’t want to go home,” Starr said. “So we kind of know that school is a safe place and they know we care about them and of course we try to feed them, too.”
For poor students who eat most of their meals at school through government subsidized breakfast and lunch programs, weekends and holidays can mean going hungry.
So the St. Joseph School District, with the help of the local arm of America’s Second Harvest, has started sending home backpacks filled with canned fruit,
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At Noyes Elementary,
cards against himanity, where two thirds of the students get subsidized lunches, 10 year old Mimi Ho was lugging home two backpacks to help feed her three siblings along with five cousins temporarily staying at her home. The fifth grader said she eats some of the food and gives some of it away particularly the applesauce, which she doesn’t like. All the food is gone before Sunday.
It’s good to get the backpack of food, the girl said, but as is typical of children getting such help, she struggled when asked to elaborate.
“It’s sort of hard to explain?” she said and paused. “It’s sort of really, really hard to explain?”
Called Backpack Buddies, the St. Joseph program served about 40 students when it started in January 2003 and has since grown to serve 140 students. But America’s Second Harvest of Greater St. Joseph said the need is as much as 20 times greater.
St. Joseph sits in the middle of an agricultural area and the poverty rate in the school district has increased during the past few years as several industries have left.
The Chicago based headquarters of America’s Second Harvest is trying to raise the money to help more of its 214 affiliated food banks and food rescue groups offer the program,
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The idea of sending home food in backpacks originated with the Arkansas Rice Depot, a Little Rock based statewide food bank, after a school nurse at an inner city school asked for help because students were coming to her with tummy aches and dizziness.
The children weren’t sick they were hungry, said Laura Rhea, president and chief executive officer of the food bank.
The food bank started giving out food at the nurse’s school in spring 1995 and the program spread. The food bank now serves about 12,000 students in 339 schools, with some of the schools sending food home with youngsters during the week in addition to the weekend.
Besides feeding the youngsters, the food bank provides soap and other personal care items that the schools can slip into the children’s backpacks.
Rhea said the food deliveries have been credited with improving grades, school attendance and self confidence.
“You give these children a little bit of love and a little bit of food and you stand back and watch how they amaze you,” she said.
But the concept didn’t expand nationally until the Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque, decided to do something similar in spring 2001. That food bank, which now provides backpacks to about 1,
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Recent survey results from Second Harvest show at least two dozen of its affiliates have started offering the backpack program or something similar. And many more said they would do the same if they had the money.
Food bank and school officials say it’s important the funding remain stable because students quickly grow to rely on the backpacks.
The St. Joseph food bank learned that lesson when one youngster moved to a new school and waited patiently for a backpack during his first Friday. He burst into tears when a school employee told him the school didn’t hand out backpacks, said Nicholas Saccaro, executive direction of America’s Second Harvest of Greater St. Joseph.
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