Backpacks help kids: ‘Kids won’t learn when they’re starving.’
December 2, 2022
As a behavior interventionist, Alicia Sierra is well aware that hungry children struggle to learn, are unable to focus, and may act out in the classroom. Sierra coordinates the Food Bank of Delaware’s Backpack program at Clayton Elementary School.
Right now, 13 of the school’s approximately 490 students receive a weekly Backpack filled with weekend meals from the Food Bank of Delaware. The bags are filled with nutritious, kid-friendly meals that include cereal, and foods like macaroni and cheese or spaghetti and meatballs, plus shelf-stable juice and milk.
Sierra explains that she regularly communicates with teachers to make sure food-insecure students receive meal kits through the program. “I put out feelers, and if we think there’s a need, I send home a backpack with a letter. People are not offended by it,” she said. “Some people don’t want it. They want it to go to someone who needs it more.”
In addition, all of the school’s seven unhoused students – those who are covered by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act – receive a backpack.
While Clayton, located adjacent to Smyrna, is a small, quiet, rural community, Sierra notes that it’s location might be part of the problem: it’s a food desert. The nearest grocery store is at least three miles away. “It would be at least a three mile walk to get milk,” she said. There aren’t even any convenience stores, and there is no public transportation available here.
“So, this is a good program. Kids won’t learn when they are starving,” she said.
According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study in 2020, one in 7 children in Delaware – or 30,920 children – faced hunger. Last year, the Food Bank distributed 140,159 backpack meals statewide.
Clayton Elementary students also receive free breakfast and lunch.