(Pictured: Milford Volunteer Coordinator Aaron Stone and Volunteer Cindy Lin show off completed backpack kits)
“Easy, convenient, helpful,” school social worker says
If anyone understands the importance of the Food Bank of Delaware’s Backpack Program, it’s Bobby Croce. Mr. Croce is an elementary school social worker at Lulu M. Ross Elementary in Milford, but he coordinates the program for two elementary schools: Ross and adjacent Mispillion.
“I help parents access community resources. Some parents just don’t know what’s out there,” he said.
The Backpack Program provides nutritious weekend/ holiday meal bags throughout the school year; and while the program wrapped up in early June for the 2018-2019 school year, children will have access to free meals through the Food Bank’s Grab ‘n Go program and the Delaware Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program.
The weekend meals are distributed to participating students through schools, like Ross and the adjacent Mispillion Elementary School, in plastic bags that students can put in their backpacks. The food includes shelf-stable, kid-friendly, and nutritious items delivered to the Ross school where Mr. Croce makes sure the approximately 300 students – between the two schools – get their bags to take home.
“I rely on word of mouth, but also I seek out kids who would benefit, and teachers let me know when kids show signs of food insecurity,” he said. Mr. Croce contacts the students’ parents, and most welcome the opportunity.
By the same token, he’s also had parents reach out to him so that their children can be taken out of the program when the need no longer exists. “They say ‘I don’t want to take it. We don’t need it anymore, and there might be someone who needs it,’ “ Mr. Croce said.
While some adults may wonder if children receiving backpacks might be stigmatized, that’s not the case, according to this school social worker. “Part of our character ed (education) class is about treating everyone the same, and that covers everyone,” he said.
Although coordinating the Backpack program at two schools may seem overwhelming, Mr. Croce said the Food Bank makes it very easy to do. “Adding someone is fast and easy, and the delivery is always on time. It’s easy, fast, helpful, convenient. All our students get free breakfast and lunch. With this, it helps them on the weekend,” he said.
“We are lucky to have this community support,” he added, noting that local organizations will often provide winter coats, sleeping bags, and support participation in youth sports for students in need.
Click here for more information on the Backpack Program, including an opportunity to sponsor a backpack for $168 for one child for a school year.