“Thank you for the food bags. My family is starving. We are glad to have a food bag,” wrote a student at Fort Wayne’s Adams Elementary, upon receiving a Blessings backpack of food.
With many schools now serving breakfast and lunch to children in need for free or at reduced prices, those children have the opportunity to eat during school. And that’s progress. But it’s not enough. What do children without enough food eat during the long weekends?
Enter Blessings in a Backpack. “Blessings in a Backpack is a non-profit organization that provides food to families in need over the weekend. The program started in Louisville, Ky. in 2005,” says Melanie T. Hall, director of public affairs for Fort Wayne Community Schools. “In Fort Wayne, Blessings began in 2007 with one school – Adams Elementary.” Now four schools benefit from the program: Abbett, Adams, Fairfield and South Wayne elementary schools.
Every Friday, just before the school children head to the bus, volunteers and school officials prepare and distribute backpacks filled with enough food to keep the child from going hungry over the weekend.
“The program is important because there are many children in need,” says Hall. “Fort Wayne Community Schools serves the highest concentration of children in poverty in the area.” It’s important that children living in lack get adequate nutrition: “Poverty is the single most influential factor impeding student achievement, hindering students’ abilities to perform for a variety of factors, including lack of nutrition,” according to Hall.
This not only affects current academic success, but can also affect the academic and economic future of children who have gone without enough food.
Blessings in a Backpack started with just two schools in 2005 and now serves over 66,000 students in 642 schools spread throughout 45 states. Currently, the program serves about 1,700 children in the Fort Wayne Community Schools who participate.
“Schools are selected to participate based on their percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch,” says Hall. The program is geared at this time for elementary school children. “We currently have funding to cover only the four schools, but we would love to serve more.”
In Hall’s experience, “Students love the program and ask for it! Earlier this year, when we had all the snow days, for some students Blessings was the first thing they asked about upon their return.”
Letters from grateful children and parents abound also on the national Blessings website: http://blessingsinabackpack.org. One student shares: “Thank you for the backpack I get on Friday. It helps me learn because I am not as hungry when I am at school.”
If you are interested in donating to the program, send contributions to Blessings in a Backpack of Northeast Indiana via Stephanie Kelly at SchenkelShultz, 111 E. Wayne Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802. Volunteers are also needed to pack the food; contact Melanie Hall at (260) 467-2020 to volunteer.