School counselor Gloria Ho sees the importance of the Food Bank of Delaware’s programs that support food-insecure students and their families.
Milton Elementary School has participated in the Backpack Program since 2009, and over the past decade more than 1,000 students have been served.
This year, Ho said 100 students – or 23 percent of the school’s population – go home with these weekend meals.
In the 2017-18 school year, 5,931 children received backpack meals each week at peak distribution.
Milton Elementary School, with 444 students in grades kindergarten through grade 5, also is home to a Harry K Foundation-funded food pantry. Since that pantry opened in 2014, about 94 families have used the pantry 197 times.
“To state the positive impact of the Food Bank of Delaware is an understatement,” Ho said. “It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been touched. There is no stigma. Everyone loves it.”
The Centers for Disease Control has includes food insecurity as part of an evaluation to identify at-risk youth, the ACES – or Adverse Childhood Experiences Score. As a school counselor, Ho is on the alert for students who deal with food insecurity.
“Sometimes you just know it,” she said, but she also relies on input from other school professionals. ”People in the cafeteria may see it, but sometimes we can’t tell. I never assume.”
Ho is well aware that there’s more to food insecurity than an empty refrigerator.
“Food instability means there are other things going on at home. Sometimes it’s an emergency. We have a high population of kids in need, and the Food Bank programs help,” she said. ”We are the front line in getting these needs addressed.”
Offering both weekend meals and food for the entire family also benefits the school staff, Ho explained.
“It’s nice to have the pantry. Families come to the school and are more likely to engage with you. Many times, food instability, lack of clothing, school supplies are outward signs of a greater need that we can address and offer help with. It’s a way to build trust,” she said.
Each school has its own way of distributing the backpacks. At Milton Elementary, older students – the 5th graders – deliver the backpacks to classrooms. As far as the food pantry, parent volunteers help with stocking.
“I love these programs. There aren’t many direct programs that don’t cost money and the benefits go directly to the kids,” said Ho.
Visit www.fbd.org to learn more about Food Bank of Delaware’s programs. It costs $197 to provide one child weekend meals for a school year. Can you help?