By Kevin Glackin-Coley, Director
This month the St. Leo Food Connection, which operates a number of emergency food programs serving Pierce County residents, will once again expand it’s Backpack Program, which provides two days worth of “kid-friendly” food to children at-risk of hunger over the weekend. On January 14 we began serving students at Tacoma’s Baker Middle School and Lincoln High School, and on January 18th we will begin serving students at Clover Park’s Dower, Custer and Tillicum Elementary Schools.
The program will now be serving more than 550 children at nearly 20 schools weekly throughout the school year. The counselor at each of the schools identifies those students most at risk of hunger. The St. Leo Food Connection provides each student with 6 kid-friendly meals and snacks, including fresh fruits and vegetables, every Friday during the school year.
This is the 5th year of operation for our backpack project that began serving 50 students at Tacoma’s McCarver Elementary in January 2008. “We learned from the success of our efforts at McCarver that far too many students are at-risk of going hungry over the weekend,” said Food Connection Director Kevin Glackin-Coley. Carol Ramm-Grammenz, McCarver’s counselor states that ”McCarver students and families are so appreciative of the food backpack program. Backpack Fridays are always very exciting around here and it has definitely improved our attendance on Fridays!” Another counselor recently wrote to say “Thank you for this program. I have a family living in a garage with one mattress for all of them to share. I know the kids look forward to getting their food every week.”
The need for the program was highlighted by a recent report from the Children’s Alliance which estimates that 440,000 children in Washington, or 25 percent, live in households where there’s not enough food for everyone to eat. The report also noted that hunger is growing more rapidly in Washington than in most other states.
Hungry children suffer from health problems such as unwanted weight loss, fatigue, headaches and frequent colds. They are more likely to be ill and absent from school and typically cannot concentrate or do as well as others when they are at school. A 1st grade teacher from Sheridan says that she “ witnessed how the backpack program changed students’ emotional outlooks and academic abilities. This past year I had three students participate. I cannot begin to describe the happiness on their faces Friday afternoon as the carried their backpacks home, knowing they wouldn’t be hungry over the weekend. The added nutrition contributed to their first grade academic success, as well as healthy physical, emotional and mental development.”
The St. Leo Food Connection is partnering with local schools and organizations to collect appropriate foods, and is also accepting monetary donations towards food purchases for the program. The Food Connection is in need of volunteers who can deliver food to one or more of these schools on Friday mornings. If you are able to help please contact Patrick Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact Kevin Glackin-Coley or Patrick Burns for more information.