A school nurse in Arkansas asked for help because hungry kids were coming to her with stomach aches and dizziness. Backpack Buddies evolved from that and now provides sacks of healthy, kid-friendly food to low-income children on weekends and school breaks, when they do not have access to the federal free and reduced-price meal programs.
One in six children in Iowa younger than 18 is food insecure. Children are selected by their eligibility for the federal free and reduced-price meal program and by the guidelines for identifying the chronically hungry child. This program is both free and confidential for the child and his or her family. The Food Bank of Iowa serves more than 2,500 children each week through Backpack Buddies. The contents contain a variety of items such as pop-top meals or soup, 100 percent juice, single-serve cereal, fruit cups, peanut butter and shelf-stable 2 percent milk.
The Backpack Buddy Program strives to provide convenient healthy foods to growing children. The food in the bags is for small hands, so we use single serving sizes. As much as kids like their treats and snacks, it is important to this program that the food provided have nutritional value. Much of the product for the Backpack Buddies program must be purchased due to the sizes needed and nutritional requirements. Organizers plan in advance for food needs and work to secure competitive pricing. Each bag costs $2.85 — a small investment to make for a hungry child.
Community Partners assist the Food Bank of Iowa in food pick-up, packing, storing and delivery to schools right in their neighborhoods. In our neighborhood, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at 3424 Forest Ave. has a Back Pack Buddies assembly line on the Saturday following the third Wednesday of the month. (That Wednesday is when the food items are picked up by St. Luke’s Episcopal volunteers.) For example, the March date is Saturday the 22nd, starting at 9 a.m., when individual servings are broken out of packaging. Sacks are filled starting around 10 a.m. During that assembly, around 600 individual sacks are filled, stored in tubs and are ready for Thursday delivery to the two schools we support: Monroe and King Elementary Schools. The project is usually completed by 11:15 a.m. School staff load the back packs on Friday and they are returned on Monday. St. Luke’s Episcopal always welcomes more volunteers.
Information provided by Jim McLallen, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 3424 Forest Ave., Des Moines, 515-277-0875