Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday October 21st 2014

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One Cup Of Coffee

BACKPACK CLUB FEEDS AREA CHILDREN
By Zoe Anderson

IN BACKPACK CHALLENGE

There are waiting lists at Oakcrest Elementary, C.A. Weis Elementary and Spencer Bibbs Elementary for backpacks. We need 100 backpack commitments ($110 each) to meet the needs of those children for the school year. Make your donation online at bayareafoodbank.org. Please be sure to specify the Florida Backpacks for Kids Program on your donation.
This Thanksgiving weekend, after braving the crowds at the mall for Black Friday deals and saying goodbye to relatives, nothing sounds better than curling up on your couch with a fresh Starbucks latte in one hand, and the IN in the other.
But consider this…

For the price of that one cup of coffee, you could have fed a hungry child for three days—plus extra food for his siblings.

For that one cup of coffee, you could have helped that child alleviate one basic need so that he could actually concentrate on what his teacher was telling him on Monday morning.

For that one cup of coffee, you could have made sure that child had the chance to pay attention to a math problem instead of the pain in his stomach.

The price of that one cup of coffee could help a child win another day’s battle with chronic hunger.
WORRIES FOR THE WEEKEND

While in school, we make sure that all of the kids in the state of Florida school system are properly fed through free or reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches.

But what happens to those kids on the weekends?

That’s where the Backpack Club, a program of the Bay Area Food Bank, comes in.

Working with the school system, the goal of the Backpack Club is to meet the needs of chronically hungry children by providing them with nutritious and easy-to-prepare food to take home on weekends and school vacations when other resources are not available.

While many of these students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, a child must display the signs of childhood hunger to participate in the program.

These signs include:
• Hoarding or stealing food
• Asking for multiple helpings of meals, but never seeming to be satisfied
• Inability to focus or pay attention
• Bloating of the face and/or belly
• Chronic fatigue

Currently, seven Escambia County schools are participating in the program, but there are dozens of schools whose students could benefit from the program. At Oakcrest Elementary alone–one of the seven currently participating–more than 20 students and their siblings are on a waiting list to participate in the program.

HOW IT WORKS

Each participating school is given student evaluation forms for their teachers to fill out to help identify children who may qualify for the program.

After a child has been identified, the school sends home a permission slip with the child seeking their parent or guardian’s approval to participate in the program.

Once the food bank receives the forms, they partner with area stores like Sam’s Club to purchase enough kid-friendly food for each school for two weeks. Volunteers sort and pack the food into bags and then deliver the bags to the schools for distribution.

Each Friday before school lets out, students who are members of the Backpack Club are called to the front office to pick up their backpack full of food for them and their siblings.

Each bag contains enough food for the weekend, including two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners, like macaroni and cheese, oatmeal, tuna and ravioli. All food is non-perishable and can be prepared by a kindergartner, such as cans with “pop tops” instead of cans requiring a can opener, foods that do not need to be cooked on a stove top or in an oven, and foods that do not require a knife or other sharp object for food preparation.

The cost for each bag? Only $3.50 per child, per weekend.

The food that goes into each bag costs $2.50, and the food bank adds an additional dollar to each bag of food to account for gas, labor and storage.  It only takes $110 to sponsor one child for an entire 32-week school period.

Results You Can See
Last year, the Bay Area Food Bank surveyed teachers, parents and students who participated in the Backpack Club to see what, if any, impact the program had in our area.

According to the food bank, the responses were very telling:
• Parents reported that one-third of students participating in the program did not eat additional food on the weekends outside of what they received in the backpacks.
• Twenty-one of 42 teachers saw positive changes in the behavior of their students who participated in the program. Their students had increased focus on Mondays and no longer hoarded food throughout the week.
• Students stated that they loved being a part of the backpack program and were proud to bring food home for themselves and their families.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

• Donate Your Money:
Online donations can be made through the food bank’s website at bayareafoodbank.org. Please be sure to specify the Florida Backpacks for Kids Program on your donation.
• Donate Your Time:
Volunteers are needed to help sort, pack and distribute food to the schools. To volunteer, please contact the food bank at 626-1332 or Whitney Gillis at whunter@bayareafoodbank.org.
• Donate Your Voice:
Spread the word about the Backpack Club. Display brochures at your office, hand out information at meetings, or mention the program in your newsletter.