The Washington School District has started a Friday Food Backpack Program — Fighting Hunger, Fueling Minds.
The program offers food to needy students for the weekend, when school is not in session, according to Lindsey Jasper, social worker for the school district.
Jasper said the district is working in partnership with Loving Hearts Outreach.
Currently, the program is available at Washington High School, Washington West Elementary, South Point Elementary and Fifth Street Elementary.
Each school receives about 20 to 25 packs of food each week, except the high school where the number is lower.
“It’s the first year for the program, but it’s something we hope to keep going and expand to all of the schools,” Jasper told The Missourian.
“I heard about the program through some other schools and thought it would be great to do here. When I contacted Loving Hearts they told me they had been wanting to do it as well, so we got right to work on it,” she said. “The first round of food went out in March.”
An individual church group also is assisting at Washington West, but working through Loving Hearts and the district.
“It’s a true partnership and we hope to get even more community groups involved,” Jasper said. “We are speaking to local civic groups and they are interested in helping too.”
The program also may get a much-needed financial boost if Loving Hearts wins a voters’ choice grant through Wal-Mart. Loving Hearts was nominated by the St. Louis Food Bank to participate, and Jasper wrote the grant application.
Loving Hearts is the only food pantry in Missouri nominated for participation and if selected, the pantry will receive $20,000 for the newly launched backpack program.
Sandy Crider, Loving Hearts executive director, said the program also will give the families vouchers for the summer so parents can pick up food for their children. Over the summer, about 100 children will benefit from the “power packs,” which include nutritious, balanced meals.
Winning the funds would be a major step toward the goal of expanding the program to all schools in the district, both Crider and Jasper said.
The women said the response to the program has been very positive.
“The families really appreciate it,” Jasper said. “It’s all done very discreetly. At the elementary level, a teacher or nurse usually refers a student they think may benefit and we then send home a permission slip, asking if they want to participate.”
The food is then placed in the student’s backpack at the end of the day Friday.
At the high school, students who may be in need are met with individually and told about the program and then they can stop by a designated room and pick up the food.
The program is completely confidential, Crider said. Even those packing a bag will not know the students who receive it.
“Everything is done not to embarrass these kids, but to allow them to know that other people are there for them,” she said, adding volunteers are needed to help pack the power packs.
Crider said the families and kids love the program.
“We’re so proud to be a part of this,” she said. “This has been a need for a long, long time, and this grant will make it possible to get a good start on the program.”
Crider also said it’s a cost-effective way to serve families in need. She noted that if the items were purchased at the grocery store, they would cost about $16.50 per child. Since food can be purchased by the skid from the food bank, it is less expensive.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re including children who need it the most,” Crider added. “We want to create a safety net so students know they can come to Loving Hearts, even over the summer, if they have a need.”
Need Is There
Both Crider and Jasper said the need is most definitely there, and even more families are out there who need help.
“I want to remind people that we need to look at the kids’ faces. We need to concentrate on the kids,” said Crider, adding that Loving Hearts also helps several homeless high school students.
Participating in the grant, which is designed to help feed the hungry, is by invitation only. Crider said it’s an honor that Loving Hearts was chosen.
“(Fighting hunger) is a community effort,” she said. “Working together is the only way we can solve this situation.”
How to Vote
A link to vote for Loving Hearts to receive the grant is on the pantry’s Facebook page, facebook.com/lovingheartsoutreach.
The link will take voters to the Wal-Mart local Fighting Hunger page, where voters can type “Loving Hearts” in the “Search for an Organization” box.
People may vote once each day through April 30.