Clark-Vitt Elementary Guidance Counselor Cheryl Savage stays late Thursday nights, carefully sneaking packs of food into students lockers so she knows they won’t go hungry over the weekend.
The packs, provided by the Wildcat Foodpack Program, go home to hungry students in an effort to keep them from going hungry over the weekends.
Savage says knowing students will have food to eat through the weekend gives her peace of mind.
“It has been a lifesaver program for some of our kids,” Savage said. “These are kids we were worried about. A lot of times teachers would privately purchase things for these kids to send home and that has alleviated them having to worry about that. They know the Foodpacks are in these lockers.”
The Wildcat Foodpack program is in its second year at Clark-Vitt, but it was first founded in 2013, serving about 75 children in kindergarten through third grade. It would later expand to include fourth and fifth grade and, most recently, include Union R-XI’s middle school students.
Now, four years later, the charity serves 202 students in the school district. The program’s board president, Dave Sutton, said he’s been continuously wowed by the community’s commitment to feed the district’s hungry students.
The program provides small packs with six weekend meals and snacks to students who might not otherwise have a meal over the weekends. Students in the program already qualify for free/reduced breakfast and lunch at their school.
All food is nonperishable so it can easily be stored and sent home in backpacks with the children and include items that children can easily make on their own. They, at most, require some heating, such as soup, cereal bowls, granola bars, pudding cups and other items.
Sutton said the cost to provide the meals to each student enrolled in the program is $5 per weekend. He said the small amount of cash can make a big difference to students who don’t have a consistent food source.
“For $5 we think it’s pretty minimal for what we can do for them,” Sutton said. “But when you take that and multiply it by $1,000, that’s a lot of kids (we can serve).”
The Foodpacks are made on Wednesdays and delivered on Thursdays. Students are sent home with the food on Fridays. Guidance counselors like Savage work to deliver the packages discreetly to students. Even those packing the food don’t know who they will be delivered to.
Savage said seeking out students who need assistance can sometimes feel like “detective work.” Sometimes students who need assistance are referred by a fellow student who receives the pack, or simply show up to school with too little or no food consistently
She said it’s not unusual for a family to struggle when bills are due, or when an unexpected expense arises.
“We know these kids, we have a knowledge of their family lives,” Savage said. “Even those families that are working two jobs are still at times struggling at the end of the month or when big payments come through.”
Once a student shows interest, or is identified as having a need for the program, a form is given to them to give to their parents allowing the student to receive the Foodpacks.
At Central Elementary, where the program has been running for several years, Principal Leslie Lause said the Foodpacks make a significant difference in her student’s lives.
She said the program not only keeps students fed, but also can make a child feel like they are contributing to their family.
“For a lot of our kiddos they’re excited to take that food home because they feel like they’re contributing to their family,” Lause said. “For me, as an administrator, knowing that my kids aren’t going to go hungry over the weekend is a relief.”
For some kids, though, the Foodpacks are a tool for bettering their learning environment as well as their home lives, Savage said.
“I wish we could do more,” Savage said. “These are fundamental needs. A kid can’t be here if they’re hungry, they can’t learn. If you don’t feel safe and fed, you can’t learn.”
For more information on the program or on making donations call Treasurer Bill Martindill at 636-584-3290.