The process of making necessary community connections and building up resources to start a Buddy Backpack program at Union’s two elementary schools has begun under the leadership of R-XI School Board President Gary Young.He came up with the idea of providing regular weekend meals to local students in need through his church.
Young is a member of Zion United Church of Christ in Union. While working as a chair on the church’s centennial committee he was encouraged to consider an outreach program that would support the community.
He outlined ground-work for the Buddy Backpack project to other school board members at the Monday, Dec. 17, board meeting.
Buddy Backpack programs go by different names, including Buddy Packs or Backpack Buddies.
The programs provide some children with weekend meals. Those typically served are students who receive free or reduced-priced lunches and those living in an environment where acquiring basic essentials is a challenge to parents.
"Unfortunately (for) some of our kids in our district sometimes the best meal or the only meal they get during the day is at our district,” Young said.
Following investments for the centennial celebration $6,300 was left to fund community interests.
“I was deemed the eternal optimist for thinking we would have any funds left to be able to do anything with,” Young said. “But we were very fortunate.”
Young said $1,300 went straight to the Union Food Pantry. The remaining $5,000 is what he intends to use to begin funding Buddy Backpacks for students in kindergarten through third-grade at Central and Beaufort elementary schools.
The program would begin at the start of the 2013-14 school year, but more input and involvement from the community will be necessary for the program to have a successful launch.
Young has been in talks with administrators at St. James elementary schools, where a Buddy Backpack program has been sustained for a number of years.
In those discussions Young has learned that providing food every weekend for one school year costs, on average, $180 per student.
The amount of food schools provide can vary — sometimes it’s six meals and two snacks, others include only six meals and others still include just four meals. The amount Union schools will pack has yet to be determined.
Young explained that program participants often end up aligning with free or reduced lunch recipients.January 2012 enrollment at Central was 737 kindergarten through third-grade students, according to data collected by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary.
Of those students 54.5 percent, or about 402 individuals, qualify for free or reduced lunches. The same report listed Beaufort enrollment at 411 students, K-6, with 38.7 percent, or 159 individuals, qualify for free or reduced lunches.Young and Steve Bryant, district superintendent, have cautiously estimated that about 250 students have a genuine need for services provided by a Buddy Backpack program.
The scope and scale of starting a Buddy Backpack project at Union will require the cooperation of large and small agencies some further away than others.Young said he reached out to the Union Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, and while they’re prepared to offer support, neither is big enough to handle the project on its own.
The St. Louis Area Food Bank is one of the main organizations Young is in talks with to provide the nonperishable items for the packs.In order for the program to receive state or federal grant funds it must be associated with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit so Young plans to approach the district foundation board at its January meeting and ask them to sponsor Buddy Backpacks.
The Union Food Pantry, he said, isn’t affiliated with the St. Louis Area Food Bank and he’s working to bridge the gap between the two groups. That way Union schools can get the amounts of food they needs and incorporate local resources.
“It was a lot more complicated than I thought it would be when I got involved,” Young said.
Kiwanas, Rotary and others would have a role in stuffing the backpacks.The ideal is for such groups to take turns packing the bags each month or each quarter, Young said.
He is hopeful a community group will show interest in collecting backpacks or made a donation for backpacks by the time the project is set to start. If that doesn’t happen Young would use the $5,000 sum to purchase backpacks.
Providing $180 worth of meals to roughly 250 students for one school year makes the buddy backpack program at projected valued at $45,000.
“The sustainability is the high hoop of it,” Young said.
Grants up to $100,000 for two years can be applied for through the state, however, Young said his understanding is it takes an exceptionally detailed and well thought out plan to receive high grant amounts.
“There is a pretty good learning curve along the way.”
His main objective would be to keep the project running for about five years and then pending adequate funding allow the program to grow with the students.He won’t turn away individuals or groups interested in supporting or assisting with the program. He said anyone is welcome to call him at home at 636-583-1061.