Hunger is a deterrent to learning for children. The National School Lunch Program has been providing free or low-cost, nutritional lunches to school children whose families are in need since 1946. However, teachers and school administrators have noticed that kids are lethargic or will say they are hungry. This led to the conclusion that certain children haven’t had enough to eat over the weekend.
To alleviate the problem of children not getting the food they need when school is not in session, many communities have begun the Backpack Project. Nondescript backpacks are filled with nutritious, child-friendly, easy-to-prepare food, then picked up by children in the program on Fridays as they leave school. The bags are returned empty on Monday mornings.
It was estimated that there are 300 or so children in the Lewiston-Altura area who are eligible to receive the backpacks, including children from L-A Elementary School, L-A Middle School, St. John’s Lutheran School, and Immanuel Lutheran – Silo School. Planning for the Backpack Project in had started in June, with help from Channel One Regional Food Bank and HCO individuals.
HCO’s Lewiston program loves to support their friends and fellow community members, so all are excited about the project. Staff members Rhiannon and Derek, along with program resident, Donna, attended a preliminary planning meeting with the team working on the Backpack Project. Donna listened intently to the discussion, but was silent until the Crossings Center groundskeeper mentioned that the only bathrooms at the Center are porta potties, with one composting toilet. That elicited a response from Donna, who said, “Geez!” Everyone laughed, probably thinking the same thing!
The program started the first weekend in October. Donna has been filling the backpacks each Wednesday at the Crossings Center, a historic farm site in the heart of Lewiston that has been turned into a community and youth center. After the bags are packed, they are delivered to the elementary school, which is in charge of getting them to the children whose families have chosen to be a part of the program. During the holidays or long weekends such as MEA, there are potential plans for a Kwik Trip voucher to be added to each bag for a gallon of milk.
Since the Crossings Center driveway and parking lots are entirely gravel, Rhiannon asked the team if it would work for HCO to fill the backpacks at home once winter comes and snow will make navigating gravel walks very difficult. The plan was approved.
Now that the backpack program has already started, there are hopes that more kids will sign up once the word gets out about it more. Any family who qualifies for free lunches with a district Educational Benefits (Free and Reduced Lunch) form also qualifies for this program.