Fixing the “No Food” Weekends

September 30, 2010

Across the country our schools, parents, businesses and communities are packing backpacks and sending kids home with food for the weekend.

Across the country our schools, parents, businesses and communities are packing backpacks and sending kids home with food for the weekend.

The BackPack program is not tied to the $4.5 billion Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that is being held hostage in the House. The House did not act on the child nutrition measure that has been a top priority of the first lady, Michelle Obama before the existing law expires at midnight tonight. Instead, the Senate adopted a stopgap spending measure to finance the government through Dec. 3 yesterday as lawmakers in both chambers closed shop for an earlier-than-expected exodus from Washington and headed home to focus on the midterm elections.

While the debate continues on what and how to feed our nation’s hungry, these BackPack programs continue to fight childhood hunger when the bell rings. They rely on community support, calling for cash donations from the community, so they can in turn purchase goods from local food banks and supermarkets. Non-perishable foods purchased are selected for their child-friendliness, nutritional value and ease of consumption. Many members of the grocery industry support these community efforts with the Feeding America Network Food Bank.

Backpacks are discreetly distributed to children who participate in the free or reduced-priced school lunch program on the last day before the weekend or holiday vacation. In addition to providing nutritious food to school children in need, some BackPack Programs provide extra food for younger siblings at home. More than 140 Feeding America members operated more than 3,600 BackPack Programs and served more than 190,000 children in 2009. This year, dozens of new BackPack programs are opening across the country.

In many communities the demand has become overwhelming. For example at the end of last year, the Kids Aid backpack program in Grand Junction, Colo. was feeding 1,400 children, and by the end of the year they could reach 2,000. Kids Aid spends $4 a week per backpacks, delivering 32 weeks out of the year, a total of a quarter of a million dollars annually. At the Springfield, MO- Ozark’s Food Harvest food bank, The Weekend Backpack Program is the fastest growing effort with nearly 1,000 children in 30 elementary schools receiving healthy food over the weekends.

The Backpack program concept originated in several places -- one being the Arkansas Rice Depot in Little Rock where a school nurse at an inner-city school asked for help because hungry students were coming to her with stomach aches and dizziness.  In response, the food bank began providing the school children groceries in non-descript backpacks to carry home, freeing them of the stigma of poverty that many low-income children face among their peers. The BackPack Program became a pilot program in 1995. The National Council of Feeding America approved the BackPack Program as an official national program of the Network in July 2006, it is a valuable and much needed program that we all should support, for more information go to Feeding America.