Backpack Project aims to help hungry children
The Morgan County Backpack Project-Bag Child Hunger is now helping needy children by sending them home from school with a bag of nourishing food and snacks for the weekend.
A committee of community parent volunteers, Morgan County Starting Points staff and school personnel organized the program after hearing that school
staff are seeing many children who are coming to school hungry.
These kids are eating all the food they can on Monday mornings. They are asking for seconds, taking extra portions and gobbling down a large lunch on Fridays before the weekend.
The Backpack Project will target at-risk kindergarten to 12th grade students in all county schools.
Each bag that goes home with a child will contain nutritional, nonperishable, child-friendly food, said Starting Points Director Audrey Morris.
The program is similar to ones that were created in Berkeley County, Jefferson County and nationally.
200 kids in need
The need became apparent from talking with teachers, administrators, principals and cafeteria workers, said Susan Caperton, Backpack Project organizer, and former Morgan County Partnership Director.
Morgan County School personnel identified 124 children that were at-risk and said as many as 200 could benefit from the program.
Caperton said she was stunned by the numbers. That many kids being hungry.
“It’s overwhelming. We’ve got to take care of these kids,” she said.
Widmyer Elementary Assistant Principal Ginnie Molnar sees kids coming to school daily who are hungry. One can almost tell by their eyes which child hasn’t eaten since lunch the day before, she said. They have a hard time staying focused and paying attention.
The population has changed and with times being hard, there’s a lot of poverty, Molnar said.
The number of families and children served by the Holiday Helpers program this year increased greatly. Some 236 families received food, clothing and toys through the program and the Salvation Army, Morris said.
“People are desperate for help, but too proud to tell you they need it,” Molnar said.
The school had 10 student backpacks of food going home last week, the first week of the distribution. Molnar said she could probably send home 40 or more bags of food a week.
A major problem
Morris said child hunger is a major problem. A growing number of children are at risk of going hungry when they leave school grounds. During the week, kids eat breakfast and lunch at school. On weekends they don’t have that option.
“Children who regularly don’t get enough nutritious food to eat have a significantly higher level of behavioral, emotional and academic problems and are more aggressive and anxious. They are sick more often, recover more slowly and are more likely to have to be hospitalized,” Morris said.
“Teenagers are more likely to be suspended from school and have more difficulty getting along with other kids,” she said.
Due to the economy, some families are trying to live on less than half the income they did previously with one parent out of work, Morris said.
In some cases, two and three families are living together—parents and kids, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Some parents are working two or three jobs.
Mortgages or rent and utilities get paid so families have a roof over their head. They keep a vehicle running so they can get to work. Food gets pushed lower on the list of priority.
Many don’t qualify for food stamps, the Women, Infant and Child program (WIC), free and reduced school meals or medical cards. There could also be medical situations or other issues behind children’s hunger, Morris said.
How it works
Berkeley County estimates that it takes $20 a month to provide one child with meals ands snacks.
They hope to sustain the program for 200 children. The project has had monetary donations that Tom Seely Foundation will match up to $2,000, she said.
Food will either be purchased with monetary contributions or donated. Food drives have begun. School personnel will select students most at-risk of going hungry on the weekends or school vacations.
Financial contributions can mailed to Morgan County Starting Points, 292 N. Washington Street, Berkeley Springs, WV 25411. Indicate Morgan County Backpack Project on the check.
Starting Points will provide fiscal management and program oversight. Last year, their AmeriCorps Vista worked with Linda McGraw to send home bags of food with 15 to 20 homeless children at two schools.
Desired food donations include granola bars/fruit and grain bars, Easy Mac, Cup of Noodles, canned soups, Ramen Noodles, Ravioli/Spaghetti Os, (pop tops are preferred), juice boxes, peanut butter, fruit cups, non-refrigerated milk/chocolate milk, bottled water, applesauce cups and individual packs of raisins/dried fruit.
Other requested foods are individual instant oatmeal and cereals, pop tarts, fruit snacks, cheese and crackers, peanut butter crackers, microwave popcorn, bottled water, pudding cups and individual pretzels, chips, cookies and crackers.
Food donation boxes are at schools, businesses, Starting Points, the Post Office and the Morgan County Public Library.
The food is for that child, not for the whole family. It isn’t three meals a day on Saturday and Sunday, but a supplement, Morris said.
“When children leave school for the weekend, the last thing they should worry about is having enough to eat,” she said.