Studies show that children who show up to school healthy and well-nourished learn better. They are more likely to attend school and take advantage of educational opportunities. Undernourished children are at a disadvantage from the moment they walk into school. Poor nutrition increases fatigue, shortens attention span, and decreases work capacity. Food insecure children tend to be absent more often because of illnesses.
Blessings in a Backpack addresses the problem of hunger for food insecure school children by helping families meet their nutritional needs on weekends when the students don’t have access to the meals they receive at school.
A backpack is sent home each Friday with a qualifying student, filled with food and returned on Monday to be refilled for the following Friday. Each backpack contains several pounds of foods such as tuna, peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, fruit juices, pastas, oatmeal, fruit bars, and soup.
The food is provided at reduced costs through special arrangements with the Meijer grocery chain. If Meijer does not service a local community, arrangements are made with other community providers.
For as little as $2.40 a backpack can be filled for a child to take home on Friday. A donation of $100 will provide food in a backpack for a child for the entire school year. For holiday breaks, extra food is sent home. The goal of Blessings in a Backpack is to keep students from going hungry on the weekends and remove barriers to academic success.
Backpacks filled with food wait to be assigned to children last year as part of the Blessings in a Backpack program. File photo by Donna Dalziel
Students in four Middle Cities districts are currently served their next weekend meal, thanks to the Blessings in a Backpack program, a “neighbor-helping-neighbor” program designed to help bridge the gap of the nutritional needs of children.
In Ferndale Public Schools, about 61% of the student population is eligible for this program. Currently, students are served in the preschool, lower elementary campus, upper elementary campus and the middle school. The goal is to have the program in all Ferndale schools as funds become available.
In Mount Clemens Community Schools, 90% of the children are eligible for the program. The Steering committee that oversees the program is formed from individuals from many of the local houses of worship. Having begun in the elementary schools, the goal is to have the program in all Mount Clemens schools as funds become available.
In Southfield Public Schools there are 3,016 hunger-insecure students eligible for Free or Reduced Fee lunches during the school week. Blessings in a Backpack begins in Stevenson Elementary this fall with 50 students. It is the goal to offer this program to all students at Stevenson Elementary and district wide, so all hunger-insecure children can benefit.
In Waterford School District, about 60% of children in the district's 18 schools are eligible for this program. Volunteers recently delivered backpacks to Donelson Hills and Riverside Elementary, hoping to expand to all schools in the district.