by Jan Spence –
Watching people working together to help children and plucks at out heartstrings. That is what happened to me on December 12 when I visited Backpack Buddies, one of our SoS grant recipients. I found myself smiling from the inside out. It was a lovely gift!
Backpack Buddies (BB) is pretty much what it sounds like it is – sending nutritious, non-perishable food items home with students in backpacks. Except not quite. Now the use of backpacks is a great idea until the students forget to bring them back, or someone spills milk on it at home, or little brother gets sick on it — well, you get the idea. So, BB sends food items home with students in plastic grocery bags donated by HEB. And why do they send this food home with the students?
Backpack Buddies’ entire purpose is to help ensure that students who are in the program are nourished over the weekend and come to school on Monday morning ready to learn.
Any student who qualifies for the federal free or reduced-fee lunch program can voluntarily sign up for Backpack Buddies. While students who are in the federal program can receive a good meal at noon each school day, those same students may go home over the weekend and not really have enough to eat.
Not in Georgetown, you say? Surely, we don’t have children going hungry! Sadly, 43 percent of the 10,600 children in grades K-12 live in families whose incomes qualify for the federal program. That’s a lot of growling tummies! The volunteers at BB work closely with principals and counselors in the schools to ensure that those students who really need food for the weekend are able to receive it.
This program started in 2009 with the students in one grade level, in one elementary school, receiving the bags of food. It was so successful that it now serves all grade levels in all Georgetown ISD schools. In total, about 1000 students receive the food bags each Friday to take home. The board of BB is continually brainstorming ways to connect with families who need but are not yet receiving their services.
GISD allows BB to utilize three rooms at the old Carver Elementary School to store and to sort the food for distribution to individual schools. And utilize the space they do! All along the walls of the storage room, down the middle of the room, stacked higher than I could reach! Lots and lots of food – cans of fruit salad, carrots, and chili, bags of rice and dried beans, juice boxes, etc.
The fine folks at Backpack Buddies know how to stretch a dollar and are good stewards of the money they are given. They are able to send home the packs for about $2.00 per pack by buying food in bulk from the Central Texas Food Bank.
Each student in the program takes home a six (6) item pack of food every Friday for the 36 weeks of the school year. The pack includes milk (think small individual boxes that don’t have to be refrigerated), cereal, a protein, a starch, a vegetable, and a fruit or a snack bar. Hopefully, it is enough to cover two breakfast meals and two lunch meals. The Seeds of Strength’s $25,000 grant will provide for ten of the 36 weeks.
Another aspect of BB that contributes to its success is the army of dedicated volunteers. No one in the BB program receives a salary, and 90% of all the monies they receive goes to food for the students. The other 10% is used to pay for the insurance and maintenance of the van that is used to help make pickups and deliveries of food.
Approximately 120 volunteers donate in excess of 6000 hours per year to sort and pack the food. If that sounds like a big operation, it is!! In the short amount of time I was at BB, I saw people working hard to be sure that children of all ages and ethnicities in our community would not go hungry. I heard caring in their voices and saw it in their faces. It is all heart and soul at Backpack Buddies! It is gratifying to see it!