Bart Brown is the President/CEO of Ozarks Food Harvest, the Feeding America member food bank in Springfield, Missouri. Here he talks about the great work of the food bank. I was particularly touched by a story he told of a child who depended on the school backpack program, the son of a substance abusing mother, who had to hide his food, saving cans over months so he’d have enough to hold him over during school holidays. It’s not the kind of saving most of us have to worry about doing.
by Ed Nicholson
Note: I’ve decided to go back and repost some things from years past that are still timely. This one originally posted in June of 2010. It remains relevant as we approach the end of the school year. Ed
As I post this on Friday afternoon, tens of thousands of kids at risk of hunger around the country are being sent home from school with backpacks full of food thanks to innovative programs such as the one Janet Kniffin, Chief Development Officer for the Connecticut Foodbank, describes in the video above. Were it not for these programs, many would go hungry over the weekend, since school lunches are their primary source of nutrition.
Soon school will be out for the summer. What happens then? Many communities have solutions. Many don’t.
Do your local schools have backpack programs? If so, what happens during the summer?
It’s Friday, when we devote this space to reminding all that the weekends can be tough for the millions of kids around the country who depend on school lunch programs for their nutrition.
Today’s guest post comes from Detroit. Kristie Sawickis publishes the blog,This Side of Eternity, and also helps in distributing food to children to take home to their families for the weekends.
I live in a poverty stricken neighborhood in the Metro Detroit area.
And I’ve come to the realization that the ones affected the most by the
continued plague of poverty are the children.
I know that everyone is concerned over the economy, but lets face it, most of us
have never had to send our kids to bed hungry. We have never had to
tell our kids there is no dinner tonight. And we have never had to
send our kids to school hungry, knowing that the relief would come when
they could walk through the lunch line and receive their free lunch.
I am thankful for programs like the free and reduced lunch program.
But the truth is that it just is not enough. What about the summer, or vacations when school is out?
Whose responsibility is it that these children not go through their entire
childhood with the constant pangs of hunger reminding them that they
have been overlooked by a nation that is full of wealth? Even in these
tough economic times there is still more than enough to go around.
I began doing a food distribution at the elementary school in my
neighborhood, where over 75% of the kids qualify for free lunch. That’s
a lot of kids who rely on the free lunches they get each day when they
come to school. Basically what I do is drive down to the food bank and
pick up 70-100 bags of groceries and then take them to the school and
pass them out on Friday after school. Each bag contains enough food for
one child to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday of the weekend.
When I first began the program I really didn’t fully understand the need.
But week after week I hear of more stories that break my heart.
Like the week we had the opportunity to pass out backpacks full of school
supplies and snack foods. Two little girls came and said they didn’t
want the backpacks full of stuff–they only wanted the grocery bags with
food in them. These girls valued the food they were getting each week
more than the snacks and supplies that were in the backpacks.
Just last week a teacher told me that one of her students was sharing with
her that there wasn’t any food at home and how excited she was that
Friday was coming when she would be able to get her food bag and have
These are only two examples among dozens. The situation seems overwhelming. And it is….. for one person.
But if we could all open our hearts to these children, we could really change the face of hunger.
So, I challenge you. When you are sitting down for dinner tonight, think of
the kids that will spend their evening trying to forget the nagging
reminder that there won’t be any more food to eat for three full days.
You can really make a difference. There are so many ways to
help. I asked the question earlier, whose responsibility is it that
these children be given something so basic as food? And I would say it
is my responsibility. It is your responsibility. It is all of our
There is so much that you can do to help a child not live in a world completely dictated by hunger.
If you have a story about childhood hunger you’d like to share, comment here.
photo by Joe Schlabotnik–Creative Commons
It’s Friday, when we devote this space to reminding people of the fact that many kids who depend on school lunch programs are at risk of hunger over the weekend. Sue Brockway, Tyson Community Relations, has long worked closely with River Bend Food Bank in Moline, Illinois. She submits this entry today on the food bank’s backpack program.
Research has shown that children who do not receive adequate nourishment during their developmental years experience impaired mental and physical development. The sad reality is that there are many children who rely on resources such as free and reduced priced meals for their primary source of food and nutrition during the school year. But what about weekends when these programs are not available to these at-risk children? In 2007 River Bend Foodbank piloted the Backpack Program to help stop the debilitating effects of childhood hunger and meet the needs of children over the weekend when there may be little or in some cases, no food to eat.
Today the Backpack Program at River Bend Foodbank has grown to provide more than 800 children with nourishing food to take home for the weekend. Foodpacks are discreetly distributed to the children on the last day before the weekend or holiday vacation throughout the school year. The food is nutritious, child friendly and easily consumed.
This program is so effective because of our partnership with 14 schools in the Quad Cities (Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois). School staff identifies the students who are most in need and distribute the food each week. Each year we ask the teachers of the children who receive the food to complete a survey to help us determine how well the program is working.
Here is a sampling of the comments on the surveys:
- One little boy told me very week that there was not food in the house. Since the Backpack Program, he has stopped saying that.
- I have a little boy in my class who would always say, ‘Is it Friday yet? Do I get to take home my food?
- The kids eat a lot of junk. This gives them something better to eat.
- One of my students said he wished he could get the backpack food every day.
- When Sarah got her food she told me: ‘I’m going to my aunt’s this weekend and I’m going to take my food with me!
River Bend Foodbank is an accredited member of Feeding America. The Foodbank distributes nearly 5 million pounds of food to 22 counties on an annual basis.
By the way, if you know Sue Brockway, send her a note of congratulations. She’s the most tireless and selfless hunger fighter we have at Tyson Foods. We’re all danged proud of her!
We’re taking Fridays to remind people there are kids who depend on the school lunch program for their nutrition. We’ve asked our friends on the front lines of hunger relief to help tell their stories.
Guest post by Myrita Craig, Freestore Foodbank, Cincinnati
“One boy told me he had to spend a weekend with an uncle who had no food, and he was so glad he had taken his Power Pack with him so that he had his own breakfast and lunch food – he may not have eaten otherwise.” Power Pack site coordinator.
In the Greater Cincinnati region which includes 20 counties in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, the FreestoreFoodbank sees the daily struggles of childhood hunger, and the number of children that often go without food is distressing. As the region’s food bank, we have started the Power Pack and Kids Cafe programs to ensure that as many children as possible have enough food to eat when not at school.
The Power Pack program sends children home with nutritious, shelf stable snacks for the weekends, and currently, we’re giving over 2,900 Power Packs per month in 30 schools. Schools that are eligible for this program must have 85% participation rate in free/reduced lunch programs. There are so many qualified schools qualify that would like to join the program, and we are continually trying to expand in order to keep up with demand.
By serving over 9,200 hot meals per month at 15 after school sites, the Kids Café program sends children home with a full belly in anticipation that they may not be fed until they return to school the next day. Hunger is a harsh reality that many children face, and there is an epidemic need for programs like these.
Of course, we can say much about our own work, but sometimes it’s best just to let those on the front lines speak for themselves. Here are just a few of many stories from our school site coordinators who participate in our Power Pack program:
"I added a developmentally challenged Preschool student to the program today. He was asked in class yesterday what he would do if he had $100, and he answered "Buy bread." He cries when he gets on the bus to leave school because he knows he will be hungry at home. We are so lucky to have this program to make sure that students do not go hungry."
“One of the kids in the program is new to this school, and he recently wrote a letter to his teachers to tell them how much he loves it here and how “good” we are to him. He said he feels loved because they care that he gets to eat. When he left before break he told me “I love you” when he got his food – this is NOT the usual we see from this boy. The program is making a difference for these children.”
Please feel free to visit www.freestorefoodbank.org for more information about our work to end hunger and further self-reliance for those in need in our community.
This space available. Do you have similar stories? Comment here.