Summer backpacks provide nutritional lifeline for Delaware’s kids

August 17, 2020

Summer breaks from school are often romanticized as a carefree time for vacations and family fun. For thousands of Delaware students – and their families – that’s not the case, and particularly as the threat of COVID-19 infection lingers. Many families are dealing with the stress of unemployment, loss of income, and food insecurity.

Thanks to the Food Bank of Delaware’s Backpack Program, children up and down the state, have access to weekend meals, and some school districts continue to provide meals that students would be receiving if school were in session.

Thanks to a generous $100,000 donation from the Acme Foundation, the Backpack Porgram was able to continue through the summer months making it a year-long program versus a school-year program.

With most Delaware school districts starting remotely come September, it will be crucial for the Food Bank, our community partners and schools to ensure that Delaware children have access to nutritious meals.

The YMCA of Delaware has been one of those community partners. The Y has been offering traditional summer camps at eight sites statewide. In addition to enjoying a variety of activities, including academic enrichment and challenges, the camps provide an opportunity for students from kindergarten through grade 10 to receive food – including family boxes and backpacks – if they are in need.

The Y’s Senior Child Development Director Courtney Hoy, based in the Bear/Glasgow Y, said 320  backpacks go to homes each weekend, even if the child is not a Y member.

“We started the family boxes in March, and we distribute backpacks every Thursday. Anyone in the community can pick up,” Hoy said.

Although this is the first time the Y has participated in a summer backpack program, Hoy is pleased with the outcomes. “It’s been very well received. In these uncertain times; people are happy to know kids can get food for the weekend,” she said.

In the past, the Y offered after-school programs out of the schools rather than at a YMCA. Like everyone else, Hoy is uncertain what how this school year will start, but she plans to continue the backpacks. “I also plan to offer it for members and for the community — if it’s available − so kids may have the opportunity to have food,” she added.

Downstate, in the Milford School District, Child Nutrition Supervisor Sharon Forrest has been offering approximately 200 summer meal pick-ups from four sites: Morris Early Childhood Center, Banneker Elementary School, Mt. Zion AME Church in Ellendale, and Houston Fire Company.

Forrest, who believes there are more children who are eligible, explained that two days are designated for pick-ups of three days’ worth of meals each: Monday and Thursday, and Thursday includes backpack distribution.

Unlike some districts, Milford does not have a bus available to distribute food to neighborhoods.

After the COVID-19 break-out in March, the district’s priority was to make sure students had a safe access to food. “In the spring, two days after the we closed, we had drive-thrus two days a week at three schools,” Forrest said.

For each child, families received a cooler bag of pre-packaged breakfast and lunch foods for each child; the food meets the required nutritional components, including fresh milk.

“I just think there are more students who could use our services. We are willing to work with families; we just want to feed people,” she said.

The summer meal program will continue until Aug. 27, and like Hoy, Forrest is uncertain how schools will open. She said she too plans to continue backpack distribution in the fall.

The Food Bank of Delaware will offer backpack, or weekend food, for students year around. The cost to sponsor a child’s backpack is $268 a year. Visit www.fb.org to learn how to help support the Backpack Program or to volunteer to help pack the backpacks.

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