Demand for Backpacks grows with COVID-19 pandemic numbers

November 9, 2020

The Food Bank of Delaware’s Backpack Program – or student weekend meals – continues to provide sustenance for Delaware children living with food insecurity through each stage of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite distribution and supply chain challenges, coupled with an increasing need, more backpacks continue to reach children statewide, according to the Food Bank’s Backpack Coordinator Greg Coumatos.

Prior to the state’s lockdown, the backpacks were primarily distributed through schools toward the end of the week so students could place the shelf-stable meal packages in their backpacks and take them home. One in 5 Delaware children lives in poverty and deals with food insecurity.

When schools closed and education became virtual, both the Food Bank and school nutrition supervisors had to pivot. From mid-March until the end of the school year, schools were still providing meals, Coumatos noted, and many offered backpacks to parents or guardians who were picking up those meals.

The landscape changed again during the summer. Typically – prior to COVID – the Food Bank distributed meals through playground sites or in neighborhoods. Due to COVID protocols, such as social distancing, “the sites were hesitant, at much lower capacity to avoid contact,” explained Coumatos.

This past summer, the YMCA partnered with the Food Bank to assure that children had access to food.

Now that most schools are offering a hybrid option to education, Coumatos said there’s been an increased need for backpacks in urban areas, in New Castle County. “Normally, it’s in Kent and Sussex counties where we see more food insecurity,” he said.

In the past two weeks, for example, 750 backpacks left the Food Bank’s Milford warehouse for distribution to children in Kent and Sussex counties, and 3,700 backpacks left the Newark warehouse for New Castle County sites. In October, the Food Bank distributed 16,000 backpacks; 21,000 statewide since September.

Those numbers indicate an increased need: In the 2018-2019 school year,  at peak distribution, 6,280 children received bags through the Backpack Program in the 2018-2019 school year –187,183 meal bags were distributed through 197 statewide sites.

Now, since most districts stagger school attendance and remote learning days in the wake of the pandemic, sites have the option of how the backpacks are put into the hands of families. “A lot of sites allow kids – parents or guardians – to pick up at any school in the district, and the coordinator tracks that,” said Coumatos. “We are just trying to make it easier.”

Like most of us, Coumatos recognizes that there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the future of COVID’s impact on one of the state’s most vulnerable populations. “Part of this is getting the items. Some things become unavailable, and it’s supply versus demands. Yes, there are pre-made meal kits, but at higher cost because we’re getting stuff that’s not just from Delaware. And right now, the pandemic numbers are trending up too,” he said.

Donors are invited to support the Backpack program; it costs $268 to provide a child with weekend food for an entire year.

Agencies or organizations who serve children in need of weekend meals can participate in the program by clicking here.

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