Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Backpack Filled with Food and More

Since I've become a parent, any story about children suffering causes me to cry. It's just unfathomable that we as a society should tolerate children being abused, neglected or hungry.

Okay - it makes sense to cry about something sad. So would somebody tell me why I teared up when I read this beautiful Shreveport Times story about a Louisiana program that makes sure children don't go hungry over the weekend?

No doubt you've read that for many children living in poverty, the only real meal of the day is often their school lunch. This is a real problem for schools, families and communities. Any parent can tell you that there are two factors certain to bring about a melt-down in any child, at any age:
1. If they haven't eaten in a few hours.
2. If they didn't get enough sleep.

If my daughter starts crying and throwing a tantrum, without fail, I can trace it back to one of these two things - and, most frequently, it's because it's because she didn't eat enough or has skipped a meal or snack.

To help, the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana also offers dinner for children in the Ingersoll Elementary School after-school program four days out of every week. According to the article, approximately 96 percent of Ingersoll's students receive free or reduced-price lunches.

But teachers soon began to notice that children were returning to school on Monday too irritable and tired. They were pretty certain those children weren't being fed adequately over the weekend.

The Food Bank obtained a
$10,000 grant from America's Second Harvest to start a new initiative called the BackPack Program. Each Friday, 85 children are given a backpack filled with seven to 10 healthy food items - all kid-friendly. They return their empty backpacks on Monday morning.

The school immediately noticed the students behaved better - decreasing behavioral problems for the school - and were more attentive Monday morning. The Shreveport Times quotes program coordinator Kimberly Page:
"If a child is hungry, you can't keep their attention. The only thing they're thinking about is what time is lunch? They're just acting better."
The Food Bank also has a unique partnership with the Shreveport Job Corps that ensures an additional 120 children are fed each day through another America's Second Harvest program, the Kid's Cafe.

Unfortunately, the grant - as many grants are - is only for launching the program. To keep it going for another year, the Food Bank will need to come up with $150 per backpack.

The article doesn't mention this, but this is a national program that originally launched in Arkansas, according to America's Second Harvest. It's offered in 39 states, plus Washington, D.C.. The program distributes up to 35,000 backpacks each week nationwide.

Donate to America's Second Harvest. Charity Navigator, which rates charities on their financial effectiveness and efficiency, gave America's Second Harvest four out of four stars. It also notes that only half a percent of their money goes to administrative expenses, 1.3 percent goes to fundraising, with a hefty 98 percent going to fund programs.

Make It Happen:
  1. Here's what David Blair, who runs the Backpack Program, had to say about how to make this happen in your community or how to support a local program.
  2. If you know of a child in need, help the child and family connect with these services. Remember, too, that behavior and attention problems could be an indication a child's nutritional needs aren't being met.
  3. Contact your local food back to see if there's a Kid's Cafe. These cafes often need volunteers to serve food or just help with the children. I found a local Cafe by just googling my city, state and "Kid's Cafe." My local cafe also needed donations of paper plates, cups, napkins and dinnerware, so you may be able to make a donation if you can't volunteer.
  4. Find out how many children are living in poverty and considered "Food Insecure" in your state by checking America's Second Harvest's Child Food Insecurity Statistics Map. Publicize these numbers by sharing them with friends, posting the information on your blog, writing a letter to your state and federal representatives, sending the stats to your clergy, a local columnist or reporter, or even putting them in your family holiday letter this year. While you're on the site, join the Hunger Action Center.
  5. Support expanding the bi-partisan "Simplified Summer Food Service Program."

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