We were taken aback while reading reporter Karen Butterfield’s story about a local food program in the Weekend Missourian. Do we have that many families that need gifts of food to survive in this area? Apparently, the need is there.

The story related that more than 4,000 backpacks with weekend meals have been sent home with students in the Washington School District this year through an organization called the Community Partners: Fighting Hunger and Fueling Minds. Now the program is being extended to the summer months. The partners include the Franklin County Area United Way, a number of churches and others.

The Washington School District operates in a large geographic area, parts of three counties, Franklin, Warren and St. Charles. With that large of an area, there are bound to be pockets of poverty. The jobless rate here pretty much mirrors the state. Washington and its immediate area may not classify as affluent, but there certainly are sections that are. Generally, it’s an upper middle class area. We have topnotch industries that offer excellent jobs at good pay. We don’t have enough skilled workers to fill the need.

With all of that we are surprised that we have residents who need help so there is food on the table.

Teachers and administrators can identify students who lack food, and who have difficulty learning because they are undernourished. They also can tell much about the families students come from by how they dress, especially in the winter. In other words, they can identify students who need help. Some students tell their teachers they are hungry. The school district also provides free lunches and breakfast to some students. It’s the weekend that can be a problem for food.

This is the second year of the food program. The number of backpacks sent home each week during the past school year was around 130. Granted that’s a small number when you consider that the district serves about 4,000 students. But it’s enough to sound an alarm. The food program is in nine schools in the district. Last summer more than 150 boxes of food were distributed. Each Tuesday, needy families can obtain a box of food at Loving Hearts in Washington. If a family has, say, three children, they get three boxes. Each box contains enough food for three meals daily for one week.

That’s not all. The partnership provides school supplies and clothes to needy families at the start of the school year.

Decades ago there may have been a need for food in a few households, but most people found a way, doing any job for money, to avoid charity. People were more resourceful and some families were too proud to seek help. Family units were stronger. People had gardens and they hunted and fished to put food on the table. Some still do.

The people in this area have a reputation for being generous, responding to needs. We applaud these people and all the volunteers involved in the food program. The number being served may not be that great considering the total enrollment in the district, but there is no question of the need, even if the number is small. The amount of food being donated is sizable. People who want to help may call 636-390-8300 for information.