Even at a ‘storybook school’ students face food insecurity

January 25, 2023

At North Georgetown Elementary School, the focus is on young learners . . . 765 students ranging in age from pre-kindergarten through 5th grade. Led by school principal Sarah Green, staff members commit to providing a supportive learning environment and recognize that hungry children can’t focus on learning. They also know that food-insecurity at home may be linked to other quality-of-life situations.

School Counselor Janice Jester coordinates the Backpack Program with the Food Bank of Delaware; backpacks provide weekend meals – kid-friendly food – for 83 students. That’s the equivalent of six classrooms. “It’s huge, and we usually add at least one student a week,” she said. She and Ms. Green anticipate that more families will be signing up.

“Teachers will send us new referrals, and the parents are more appreciative than reluctant,” explained Ms. Jester. “The students get excited.”

A North Georgetown Elementary student shows off one of the Backpack Program meal kits.

The Backpack Program provides food year-round 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 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. The food is easy to prepare, reduces consequences of under nutrition, and allows educators to take direct action to benefit hungry children. The backpacks are distributed on Fridays or the last day before a holiday or vacation in a discreet manner at schools.

Sixty-eight percent of the North Georgetown Elementary School students qualify for free or reduced lunch; everyone gets a free breakfast. Ms. Green noted that this school’s demographics are somewhat unique:  80 percent of these students have a Hispanic cultural heritage; 60 percent of the students are multilingual learners. “We have a very strong and positive school community, very involved. I’d describe it as a storybook school,” she said, noting that Parent Nights draw a large turnout. In addition, students are supported by community organizations such as Clothing Our Kids and the Food Bank.

Like many other schools, North Georgetown Elementary School previously housed a school pantry . . . until that space was needed for instructional purposes. Ms. Green, recognizing her students’ and their families’ needs, is working with the Food Bank to host a mobile pantry at the school.

The principal also notes that the cafeteria team diligently supports students’ food preferences; at this school, “students gravitate toward fresh produce, fruits and vegetables.” A snack cart for students might feature apples, bananas, and even fresh squash. “The positive feedback has been consistent,” Ms. Green said.

To learn more about the Food Bank of Delaware’s Backpack program, visit www.fbd.org; to sign up as a participating site, email Chris Willis at cwillis@fbd.org.

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