VOA backpack food program feeds Jackson Elementary students
EVERETT - When the school bus drops them off on Friday, some children go home to empty cupboards and come back Monday with growling stomachs.
The Volunteers of America Western Washington just launched a program at Jackson Elementary to keep children fed over the weekend.
The VOA delivered its first food packages to 20 Jackson Elementary children two weeks ago. The students get seven pounds of food to take home. The packages include two protein-rich meals such as SpaghettiOs, two cereal packages, two fruit cups and two treats such as Fruit Roll-Ups.
“It isn’t big, but it makes a huge difference,” VOA Food Bank community outreach coordinator Kathleen Dale said.
The food comes from the shelves of the food bank, but the VOA hopes to secure sponsors to take up the cost.
It costs about $7.50 per kid to fill a backpack. It would cost $6,000 to support 20 kids throughout the school year.
“If we’re going to take this forward, we need revenue streams,” Dale said. “How can we grow this ... because we know there’s need?”
The organizers chose Jackson Elementary as the pilot school because it has many students living in poverty but gets overlooked by other schools with more students in need.
At Jackson Elementary, almost half – 48 percent – of students qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program. But at Hawthorne Elementary, which runs an independent backpack meal program, 78 percent of students qualify for the program, according to state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction figures. The federal program is an indicator of student poverty levels.
The VOA estimates one-third of all children in Snohomish County are on a free and reduced lunch program.
Jackson Elementary used to have a group of ladies who gave food to the school, but they couldn’t continue anymore, Dale said.
The VOA would like to make the backpacks program financially sustainable. The nonprofit is beginning to reach out to companies and individuals for sponsorship.
Katie Diamond, a county resident, eager to help others helped kick start the program. Diamond came to the VOA to fulfill a personal development class assignment, but it turned into something bigger.
“She’s a real sweetheart,” Dale said of Diamond.
Diamond and her husband Lindsay got their employer, Everett-based H & L Sports, to donate 30 backpacks.
Most of these backpacks are being stored at the VOA because most of the kids are given mesh bags to put in their own backpacks, Everett Food Bank director Leann Geiger said.
What surprised Diamond was how easy it was to take small steps to act on a problem as big as child hunger.
To sponsor the backpacks program, contact Kathleen Dale at 425-259-3191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published March 21, 2012