According to Feeding America, 22 million children receive free or reduced-price meals at school through the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. For many of these children, these are the only meals they will get in a day. When they go home on Friday afternoon, they may see few or no meals until Monday morning.
When families struggle to make ends meet, nutrition is one of the first sacrifices made. 84% of households that Feeding America serves report that they buy the cheapest food available — instead of healthy food — in order to get enough for their family to eat. Helping to relieve hunger is one way that we can ensure children are receiving the nourishment they need to grow strong and excel in school.
Many schools across Delmarva are participating in weekend backpack programs, which help close the hunger gap for children who may not get enough nutritious food on weekends. These programs send home healthy and kid-friendly breakfasts and lunches, fruit, and snacks for students to eat at home, so they return to school on Monday full and mentally prepared for learning.
School nurse, Laura, discovered that many children visiting her office with headaches, stomach aches and dizziness weren’t actually sick, they just hadn’t eaten since school lunch the day before. A school counselor also noticed that students were distracted, disruptive, and struggling academically because hunger was keeping them from being able to concentrate. Out of this need, the first backpack program supplementing children’s nutrition was born. It has since been replicated in 39 states.
Fighting childhood hunger is a community effort. Food for the backpack program and feeding programs like it is donated by food banks, churches and other charities. It is then packed into take-home bags by volunteers. School personnel distribute the food to at-risk children discreetly on Friday afternoons to ensure that children have access to nutritious food all weekend.
Schools and organizations across Delmarva are joining the fight against childhood hunger. In addition to Delaware and Virginia’s weekend backpack programs, Maryland has a School Pantry Program, which helps ensure that children in low-income families have access to quality nutrition after school hours, on weekends and during holiday breaks.