By Kevin Glackin-Coley/Quent Cole
On September 13th the St. Leo Food Connection, which operates a number of emergency food programs serving Pierce County residents, will once again begin operating it’s Backpack Program, which provides two days worth of “kid-friendly” food to children at-risk of hunger over the weekend.
The program will provide two-days worth of food every weekend throughout the school year to more than 630 children at 24 Tacoma and Clover Park Schools. 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 6th 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 2013 report from the Children’s Alliance which estimates that 440,000 children in Washington, or 25%, 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.”
We are partnering with local schools and organizations to collect appropriate foods, and are also accepting monetary donations towards food purchases for the program. The Food Connection is in need of volunteers who can deliver help bag food for the program and/or help deliver food to one or more of these schools on Friday mornings. If you are able to volunteer please contact Quent Cole (email@example.com). Please contact Kevin Glackin-Coley (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.