Food Bank’s new initiative targets youngest Delawareans

January 31, 2023

Toddler Totes – weekend meals – will be distributed through child care centers

Some of Delaware’s youngest and most vulnerable food-insecure state residents will have the support of weekend meals when the Food Bank of Delaware launches a new program – Toddler Totes. The program piggybacks on the success of our Backpack Program; over the past 15 years the Food Bank has provided backpacks – bags of shelf-stable weekend food for school-aged children – now numbering about 3,500 each week.

This new Toddler Totes program has been almost a year in the planning, starting with the concept of reaching this new population. A director at New Directions Early Childhood Center in Newark posed the idea to Alisha Beckford, one of our Community Nutrition educators. Beckford shared the idea with our Chief Development Officer Larry Haas. “The answer wasn’t no,” said Beckford. “The coolest thing was that Larry was open to the idea, and it’s definitely a nice idea.”

From there, concept to delivery was definitely a team approach: Community Nutrition Director Leah Brown and Food Distribution Director Michael Zeltt needed to develop the nutritional contents of these bags and how to get them to the toddlers who needed them.

“We started collecting data, feedback from sites to make sure we met our neighbors’ needs,” said Zeltt. Moving forward was not without challenges; Brown noted there were no existing programs to model.

Brown explains that nutritional needs for children ages 1-5 years – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack – are different from older children; she worked with New Directions nutritionist Irene Soucy, RD,  to align the contents with very specific federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) guidelines. “There are critical nutrients at this age that could decrease learning and behavioral issues later. I have to think ‘Why didn’t we do this before?”

Next, Food Acquisition Manager Missy Holochwost needed to find sources for shelf-stable whole milk, cereal, vegetables, appropriate entrees, and fruit.

“Food is essential to brain development; we had to meet all the meal and food groups to fill in the gap in an appropriate way,” said Brown.

Over the past few weeks, volunteers have been packing hundreds of Toddler Totes, and Backpack Coordinator Chris Willis has been connecting with organizations who will distribute these weekend meals. Food Bank drivers will deliver the Totes. “We will continue to expand statewide,” Willis said.

Planners are pleased to see this initiative become a reality.  “We are adding another layer of resources for our neighbors. It’s a good program. We already know that a child who shows up hungry will probably have behavior issues. By adding more nutrition when they are developing , we are adding more resources,” Brown said.

Zeltt hopes to connect with not only with sites but also researchers who will gather data to track these toddlers, monitoring the success and impact of this new program. “We can never break the cycle if we don’t start here,” he said. “This is a population that needs to be served, and we can fill the gap. These children didn’t ask for this.”

For more information on how your child-care site can connect to this program, call Chris Willis at 302-292-1305, ext. 233 or email him at

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