Summer Backpack Program benefits kids hit hard by pandemic
August 10, 2021
At the Food Bank of Delaware, we call the children’s weekend meals program our Backpack Program. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the backpacks were distributed only through the school year, but now we provide food year ‘round for children in need.
The name for program comes from how the meals are distributed: they are packed by volunteers at both our Milford and Newark sites in plastic bags. Each bag contains kid-friendly, nutritious, shelf-stable food – including milk and juice, along with macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, beef stew, cereal, applesauce, and nutritious snacks. After Food Bank trucks deliver these bags to schools, then teachers, counselors or volunteers, discretely put bags in the students’ backpacks so they go home for weekend and holiday meals.
This summer, students attending summer school were able to benefit from the Backpack Program. At North Georgetown Elementary School, counselor DeVon Edwards said each Thursday about 45 students of the 100 children attending summer school participated in the Backpack Program. This school serves kindergarten through 5th grade.
“The students seem very grateful and appreciative,” said Edwards. Even though the Indian River School district provided Chromebooks and tech resources for virtual learning, many students struggled. He noted that students were happy to be back in the classroom. “It’s important for them to be able to socially interact with their teachers and friends,” he said.
Backpacks are also an important resource for younger children whose parents are struggling in the post-COVID economy. Breanna Fountain, RDN, LDN, is Food & Nutrition Coordinator for Children & Families First’s 13 Head Start Center. Although not all sites were open during the summer, Fountain expects them to start back during the first week of September. She describes the program as very successful for children during the school year; the Head Start sites served more than 700 children throughout Kent and Sussex counties.
In addition to providing positive nutritional experiences for children and their families, the program also increases awareness of resources available to low-income families and positive nutrition. It costs $268 to sponsor one backpack for one child per year.