‘There’s no stigma here.’: Hungry kids appreciate Backpack meals

November 23, 2022

When heavy morning fog delays the start of school, for some kids it’s time for a little celebration. For others, though, it means a no-breakfast and an empty-belly kind of day.  Crystal Thompkins, school counselor, at Towne Point Elementary School in Dover, knows what to expect when kids face a two-delay delay in their routine.

Her Title I school serves about 348 students from kindergarten through 4th grade, and about 150 students — nearly half the enrollment – receive a weekly bag filled with weekend meals from the Food Bank of Delaware.  The bags are filled with nutritious, kid-friendly meals that include cereal, and foods like macaroni and cheese or spaghetti and meatballs, plus shelf-stable juice and milk.

According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study in 2020, one in 7 children in Delaware – or 30,920 children – faced hunger. Last year, the Food Bank distributed 170,270 backpack meals statewide.

At Towne Point, Thompkins keeps a watchful eye on young learners, both in school and through regular home visits, looking for signs of food insecurity that children may not share by using words. She checks out the cafeteria to see “If they are eating too quickly or ask for more.”

This school’s population “runs the gamut,” she notes, adding that it serves children living in a public housing neighborhood as well as those living in townhome or single-family houses. Having adequate nutrition is a key component in educational success, says Thompkins. “Food plays a major role in the educational process. If students come to school hungry, they are not fully engaged in morning activities,” she said. She stores extra food in her office just for children who arrive at school late, missing breakfast. “Children need to feed their bodies and their minds in order to be successful.”

In addition, Thompkins says food insecurity may be linked to other issues. “Children may need clothing or housing too. We try to make sure our children our taken care of, and having backpacks on the weekend is just as though they are in school.”

The feedback? Gratitude.  “Numerous parents say to me they are thankful,” said Thompkins, noting sometimes families may be temporarily living in a motel where there is no access to food. “The need is there, and they appreciate it so much. We appreciate the Food Bank; it gives us the ability to share food with our children. There is no stigma here; it’s a big plus.”

The cost is $300 to sponsor a child’s backpacks for an entire year. Click here to learn more about the Backpack program. Email Chris Willis at CWillis@fbd.org to sign up at a Backpack program site.

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