At the Food Bank, we call the tightly stocked plastic bag “Backpacks” because this bag of weekend meals fits discreetly inside a student’s backpack. Each bag contains shelf-stable, nutritionally balanced food for children to take home on weekends and school vacations when other resources may not be available: cereal, juice, a variety of microwavable entrees, and a couple of snacks.
Thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Morgan Stanley Foundation, the Food Bank of Delaware is able fund its Backpack Program for preschoolers, specifically supporting the Backpack programs at North Georgetown Elementary School in Georgetown and McIlvaine Early Childhood Center in the Caesar Rodney School District.
Backpack coordinators at both schools say the Food Bank’s program is a much-needed . . . and much appreciated . . . lifeline for food-insecure youngsters.
About 950 students ranging from pre-kindergarten to grade 5 are enrolled at North Georgetown, and this year 181 take home Backpack food, said Meghan Blades, the school’s counselor. Blades spends nearly an entire day each week distributing the backpacks to the classrooms. “We had 116 students last year and just 92 in 2017. This year, about 100 more could probably use it,” Blades said, noting that 90 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunches.
“It’s a cultural thing,” she explained. The school’s population is more than 85 percent Hispanic heritage. She is aware that many of the parents are unable to find jobs, but they may be too proud to ask for help. “We have the lowest percent of behavior problems in the district. Our parents stress the importance of education; they came here so their children could have a better life.”
In the meantime, families live in poverty, often sharing living space with relatives and relying on others for transportation. “The needs of these kids are so great, and so is the need for the backpacks. The kids enjoy it,” she said. “These kids are resilient, but we’re still dealing with meeting basic needs: food, health care, and clothing.”
In Kent County, McIlvaine Early Childhood Center serves 500 students; 110 of them participate in the Backpack program coordinated by SBI Paraprofessional Kristen Yuckel.
Yuckel recognizes the value of weekend food for these very young students, and starts encouraging the adults responsible for them to enroll in the program. “I love this program,” said Yuckel, who distributes the backpacks to each of the 21 homerooms every week.
“Some teachers call them grocery friends, and the teachers explain that some families just don’t have enough food in the house,” Yuckel said. Other teachers refer to the weekly distribution as “Backpack Buddy,” and both coordinators agree there’s little stigma attached to the program.
Yuckel also noted that during a recent Kindness Week all students were encouraged to contribute extra coins as a donation back to the Food Bank of Delaware. They collected $746.66 that will be officially presented next week.
In June, the Morgan Stanley Foundation awarded a total of $1,000,000 in grants to Feeding America® member food banks across the country. Since 2009, the Foundation has partnered with Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks, and given more than $23 million to help launch, expand and sustain critical child nutrition programs.
“We are thrilled to receive this important grant from the Morgan Stanley Foundation in support of our efforts to deliver more nutritious meals to children and families in Delaware,” said Food Bank of Delaware President and CEO Patricia Beebe. “Morgan Stanley and its employees provide vital support for the Food Bank of Delaware by generous contributions of funds and volunteer work.”
Visit www.fbd.org to learn more about the Food Bank of Delaware’s programs that help food-insecure Delawareans.