The Problem

More than 21 million children qualify for free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. For many of these children, school meals may be the only meals they eat. What happens when they go home over the weekend?

In Genesee County over 55% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. These children look like every other kid, but the impacts of food insecurity on children is devastating. Studies have demonstrated that lack of proper nutrition impacts cognitive development, is linked to poorer school performance and increases illness.

These children have dreams and hopes, but without help from the community to meet basic needs like food, they will struggle to achieve them. Childhood hunger is a community problem that the community can solve.

The Program

The Backpack Program is an undertaking of the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan which attempts to reduce child hunger, educate students on proper nutrition and promote healthy lifestyles.  Designed to provide extra support for children who rely on free or reduced-priced lunches at school, this program provides children who are at risk of hunger a backpack full of nutritious foods every weekend throughout the school year.  The program began in 2004 with backpacks in 2 elementary schools.  Currently, the Food Bank’s Backpack Program serves 6,593 children in 148 schools from 22 different counties.

Is This a Government Supported Program?

No. We depend entirely upon the community and some grant monies to run the programs. Typically grants are used to get a progam off the ground until support can be found to sustain the particular school.

What About the Free and Reduced School Lunch Programs? Doesn’t this Apply?

No, they do not. The Federal funded reduced or free lunch programs provide meals while these children are in school. The BackPack Program steps in to assist these same kids over the weekends when school is not in session. The BackPack Program goes home with the child, providing food when school meals are not available.

How Does it Work?

Volunteers and site personnel are essential in order to have a successful Backpack Program. Helpers will be involved in each of the following steps.

  • Receiving the food delivery.
  • Breaking down cases into individual units.
  • Distributing the food into the backpacks according to the site instructions.
  • Distributing the backpacks to the children.
  • Collecting backpacks the following week for another cycle.

What Types of Food Items are in a Typical Backpack?

Depending on the site and funding source, here’s what the Food Bank considers when selecting Backpack products:

  • Single serving
  • Tasty
  • Individually wrapped
  • Shelf stable
  • Nutritious
  • Kid friendly
  • Easy to prepare
  • Microwaveable

Each Backpack contains food products from the following groups; Fresh Fruits and/or Vegetables, Dairy, Grain, and a source of Protein.

How Can I Help?

Your donations in support of the program is the single best way to help the cause. A $100 contribution feeds a child every weekend during the school year. That’s the same price as going out for a nice meal – except it feeds a child for a year. Where would you rather put your money?

You can also get involved with your local community schools and help bring the program to your local district. You may volunteer your services to help stuff backpacks during the school day. Contact the Food bank of Eastern Michigan to find out how you can become involved.