By Gwen Guerke, Communications Coordinator
Each Friday, 61 students at Philip C. Showell Elementary School in Selbyville receive a bag of shelf-stable food for the weekend.
These students participate in the Food Bank of Delaware’s Backpack Program, and according to Cheryl Carey, school counselor, gratefully and happily so.
Here’s how it works: Based on financial eligibility, parents can sign up their child (or children) through participating schools. It’s called the Backpack Program because a plastic bag filled with nutritionally sound and kid-friendly food, enough for the weekend, are placed in a child’s backpack.
“We call it Friday Friends,” said Ms. Carey, explaining how the school modified the backpack distribution process so that it’s easily incorporated into the school day.
“Last year, at the end of the day, the kids came to the cafeteria on the way to the bus,” she said.
But the program grew, and not unexpectedly, because 79 percent of the students in school serving Pre-K to grade 5 quality for free or reduced school lunches.
During the 2013-14 school year, 4,692 children in Delaware received weekend food through this backpack program at 125 sites state-wide.
With the weekly assistance from a retired teacher turned volunteer, the meals are delivered on a cart to each classroom.
Moya Stitzl, the volunteer, also prints out labels for each bag, further streamlining the distribution process.
“It’s important to make it normal. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no stigma attached,” she said.
The new system works.
“Everybody wants to be a friend,” said Ms. Carey.
“Our kids are really nice kids. They get it. They understand that some people need more help. This is such an extremely positive program, and I can’t thank the Food Bank enough.”
Lexi, Mason, Jesus and Daysia, all 5th grade students, all agreed: the crackers and juice were their favorites, and if they receive an item that they don’t enjoy, there’s always a sibling who will eat anything.
“I like to share it,” said Daysia.
Ms. Carey describes her school’s families as “hard-working parents. Our community is fabulous. The needs are there, but the needs are supported,” she said.
“I can’t say thank you enough to the Food Bank and to the volunteers.”
It costs $158 a year to provide one child with weekend food for one school year.
For more information on how to volunteer at the Food Bank of Delaware or to support the backpack program, visit www.fbd.org.