Connection is key to program’s success; backpacks help hungry students
November 1, 2016
By Gwen Guerke, Communications Coordinator
Like many high schools participating in the Food Bank of Delaware’s Backpack Program, at Sussex Central High School near Georgetown offers an opportunity for food-insecure teens to have access to weekend meals.
These students are among the one in five Delaware children who live in poverty.
The Backpack Program provides food to children in need for weekends and holidays when school is not in session and federal school meal programs are not available.
Backpacks are stocked with kid-friendly, nutritious food including shelf-stable milk and juice, meals such as macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs and beef stew, granola bars, apple sauce, cereal and more. They are distributed in a discreet manner at schools on Fridays or the last day before a holiday or vacation.
Randy Ramirez, one of the school’s student advisors, coordinates the Backpack program, and he would like to see more of the school’s 1,600 students participate because he’s aware of the need.
More than 50 percent of the students meet the federal guidelines to qualify for free and/ or reduced lunch.
So he knows the need may be far greater than the students who have signed up so far.
“At the high school level, I know that those who come down really need it,” he said.
The distribution system is pretty simple: Prior to dismissal on Fridays, the students stop by a faculty lounge to pick up their weekend food. Mr. Ramirez is there to greet them and check them off his list.
He says he’s made some attempt at recruitment, offering the opportunity to participate to students “in transition,” or who lack permanent housing.
“I put the offer out,” Ramirez said. “I put it out to the teachers, and I make contact with the students.”
Because he is the direct connection to students who receive backpacks, he believes the program has merit.
“There are a few that say ‘This really helps us. We really need it.’ And the ones who come have been on the list for two or three years.”