Backpack program makes sure kids don’t go hungry

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By Sharon Graves

Hunger often brings many other problems to the forefront in schools – disruptive behavior in class, poor or falling grades, and health problems.

Free and reduced-priced lunch programs have made in-roads in stemming the hunger problem in the nation’s schools, but the problem is exacerbated when those same children return to school on Monday morning – hungry from a lack of food at home over the weekend.

To combat this problem, the Backpack Buddy system was implemented at Cartmell Elementary School this year.

Volunteers fill 50 backpacks on Friday afternoons with nonperishable foods and fresh fruits that a child can eat over the weekend, said Charlotte Curnutt, family liason with the Kentucky Encouraging Youth to Succeed, or KEYS, program.

KEYS is a statewide initiative that works to improve the education of young people in the state; ensuring that children have food on the weekends is critical to learning, Curnutt said.

The Backpack Buddy program is an effort to see to it that at-risk children aren’t going hungry over the weekend when they go home. The backpacks are filled with foods that are easy to fix and doesn’t need refrigeration.

On Friday during a break at the end of the day, the backpacks are discreetly distributed to those children who have been identified as at-risk. The children return the backpacks on Monday morning, Curnutt said.

Inside the backpacks can be found food such as microwaveable pasta or chili, beans and franks, tuna, hot or cold cereal, shelf-stable milk, mixed-fruit cups, fruit-juice boxes, pudding, granola bars and crackers.

The Dare to Care food bank in Louisville, Ky., has donated the backpacks and the food for the backpacks from a menu created by a nutritionist to provide a balanced assortment of food.

Cartmell Elementary is the only school in the Carroll County school system that was selected to participate.

The program also operates in 12 schools in Jefferson County and four schools in Bullitt County, according to the Dare to Care Web site.

In 2007, the Backpack Buddy program was honored from among 120 similar programs nationwide with the America’s Second Harvest “Circle of Excellence” Award, according to the Web site.

The Dare to Care Food Bank spends about $4 per backpack for food and monetary donations are always accepted. Checks made payable to Dare to Care Food Bank may be mailed to P.O. Box 35458, Louisville, KY 40232.