Backpacks Stave Off Hunger For Some Kids

Anita Campbell
County Reporter
One in five children in our community regularly faces food insecurity.  In Benton County, 77% of children qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school.  When the weekend comes many of these children do not have access to nutritional meals.
The Buddy Pack program provides bags of kid-friendly nutrition children can  take home with them before weekends and holidays.
Warsaw North School Counselor Teresa Flores helps to identify children at North and Ruth Mercer Elementary who may need some additional food over the weekend.
“The Buddy Pack program is completely voluntary for families who need some help over the weekend when the children are at home all day,” said Flores.  “Sometimes children come to me or their teachers to ask about assistance or teachers recognize someone in need.”
Flores contacts the families to ask if they would like to participate in the program, then helps them get the food they need.
The Buddy Packs are delivered to North, South and Ruth Mercer Schools already packed and ready to distribute to the children on Friday.  The Food comes from the Feeding America Columbia food bank which serves the central  and northeast Missouri children.
“The food comes in a plastic sack which we distribute to the classrooms,” Flores said.  “We leave them outside the classroom door so the teacher can help the students who need the food discretely put it in their backpacks to take home.  If the student doesn’t have a backpack, we will provide one so they can take the food home without anyone knowing about it.”
The Buddy Pack contains foods like cereal, soup, boxed milk, ravioli, granola bars, applesauce, fruit and anything that does not need to be refrigerated.
“Most of this food can be eaten with little preparation in case the child is home alone,” said Flores. 
During the school week, children in the Warsaw R-IX District are served free breakfast and lunch, but the weekend and holidays creates a problem for many families.
At the present time about 130 packs are being distributed each Friday to the students at North, Ruth Mercer and South Schools.  During Thanksgiving Break the Buddy Packs were distributed on Tuesday and contained enough food to feed the children over the five day break in school.  Students at Lincoln and Cole Camp also participate in the Buddy Pack program.
All children in the Warsaw R-IX District are served free breakfast and lunch five days a week.  The Buddy Pack program is only for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.  Middle school and high school students do not receive any help for the weekends.
Millions of people are struggling to get by because of underemployment, stagnant wages and rising costs of living. In fact, more than 46 million people turn to the Feeding America network each year for extra support.
In a country that wastes billions of pounds of food each year, it’s almost shocking that anyone in America goes hungry. Yet every day, there are millions of children and adults who do not get the meals they need to thrive. The Feeding America network works to get nourishing food – from  farmers, manufacturers, and retailers – to people in need. At the same time, they also seek to help the people we serve build a path to a brighter, food-secure future.
For the 21 million kids who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, school breakfast or lunch may be the only meals they can count on.  For more than 15 years, the Feeding America BackPack program has worked to make sure children have access to nutritious — and easy-to-make — meals for the weekend. Today, they are partnering with over 160 local food banks to distribute weekend meals to more than 450,000 students each week.
Help now by mailing a check payable to “The Food Bank” with “Benton County Budd Pack” in the memo to Hawthorn Bank, Attn:  Carmen Mantonya, P. O. Box 217, Warsaw, MO  65355.