Pensacola, Florida
Friday October 24th 2014

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MAKE A DIFFERENCE For three years, Studer Group has been running ads in the Independent News and Gulf Breeze News honoring individuals and groups that are making this community a better place for all of us to live. Complaining and bickering comes easy, but reaching out and trying to have a meaningful impact is a much bigger challenge.

Even with over 150 difference makers having been honored, we have only scratched the surface in recognizing the many difference makers in our area. There are hundreds more who work under the radar, without fanfare. Their acts of kindness create tremendous ripples throughout the Pensacola Bay area.

I want to ask for your help in causing a ripple that could have a profound impact on our school system. I’m asking you to help stamp out childhood hunger in our elementary schools.

Four years ago, we reported on how teachers in our schools that serve the poor neighborhoods have learned that before they can begin teaching their students the three R’s, they must first attend to the basic food needs of their pupils (Independent News, “Left Behind Part 3: Education,” Aug. 17, 2006). Readers learned that childhood hunger existed a few blocks from downtown Pensacola.

It still does. We still have children in the Escambia County school system who depend on the schools to eat. When school ends on Friday, they will not have another meal until the next Monday morning in the school cafeteria. And while some will rail at the parents, the fact remains that children are going hungry through no fault of their own.

Elementary teachers and school staff have come to recognize the signs of childhood hunger–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 and chronic fatigue.

In 2006, Hallmark Elementary had volunteers put together care packages for the kids to take home for the weekend. Today the Bay Area Food Bank has created the Backpack Club to meet the needs of chronically hungry children by providing them with nutritious, easy-to-prepare food to take home on weekends. There are waiting lists at Oakcrest, Weis and Spencer Bibbs schools to be added to the program.

The Backpack Club provides children with backpacks 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. For $11,000, we can take care of the children on the waiting list.

Will your donation truly make a difference? Last year, the Bay Area Food Bank surveyed teachers, parents and students who participated in the Backpack Club. Teachers surveyed 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 loved being a part of the program and said they were proud to bring food home for themselves and their families.

So become a difference maker. Make an online donation through the food bank’s website at bayareafoodbank.org. Please be sure to specify the Florida Backpacks for Kids Program on your donation.

Let’s end childhood hunger in our elementary schools now.

rick@inweekly.net