Two elementary students were attempting to steal food from the school cafeteria in Little Rock, Arkansas, when a school nurse happened upon them.
What would she do? Scold them? Punish them? Send them to the principal’s office?
None of the above. Instead, she asked a simple question: Why?
They answered that they were hungry. They were hoping to gather some food to get them through the weekend. They had no other alternative for meals for the next two days.
This is how the national “backpack program” began. Filled with non-perishable food items on Fridays, the backpacks ride home on the shoulders of children who would otherwise go hungry over the weekends.
While it may seem unfathomable that some children don’t get enough to eat at home, it happens here in the Heartland every day. One in 5 kids don’t always know where his or her next meal will come from.
With the support of a $15,000 grant from the Iowa West Foundation to the Food Bank for the Heartland, there are a lot fewer children in southwest Iowa wanting for food on weekends.
The Food Bank for the Heartland hands out approximately 8,500 backpacks a year, more than 1,000 of go to children in Council Bluffs and southwest Iowa. Each backpack contains two shelf stable milks, two bowls of cereal, two entrees, one juice and one fruit cup to be consumed on Saturday and Sunday.
Without the backpacks more children would come to school on Monday groggy and grouchy from hunger, conditions not conducive to learning to read or write.
“If a child is fed, they’re more alert, less likely to perform attention-seeking behavior and their attendance is better,” said Susan Ogborn, President and CEO for Food Bank of the Heartland. “Teachers also have found that achievement increases.”
Simply put, children perform better and score higher in the classroom Monday through Friday because of the backpack program.
“We want to break the cycle of poverty, and we all think school is a good way out,” Ogborn said, “but kids can’t be successful in school if they’re hungry. No one could.”
Ogborn said several parents send notes of thanks to the Food Bank of the Heartland, including the following:
“I just want to say thank you. It can be embarrassing at times not to be able to feed your kids. I know someday I will get past this, but I’m glad (the backpacks) are here when I need it.”
To read more about the backpack program and how you can get involved, visit foodbankheartland.org