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Backpack Program Helping Feed Students Over the Weekends

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- September is Hunger Action Month and the Food Bank of Iowa is pressing now more than ever the need to end food insecurity in Iowa, especially in children. They state one in six kids in Iowa face hunger and a local program is working to fix that.

Thanks to free and reduced meals Iowa’s public schools do a fantastic job making sure every student is fed during the school day, but what about when they leave those classroom doors on Friday afternoon? Often times there isn't another full nutritional meal until they return to school again next week. That's why the Food Bank of Iowa has a Backpack Program to help.

“The backpack program is extremely important. We often think about weekends for kids as a really exciting time, but for some kids it's not. It's a challenging time for them when they think about where their next meal is coming from, so the backpacks that we put together are a small source of food for them to take home on the weekend,” Dylan Lampe, senior manager of marketing and communications for Food Bank of Iowa said. “One of the challenging things is if there's a hungry second grader, there's probably a hungry fourth grader, and seventh grader, and hungry parents. So it's not a large amount of food, but it's something for them to take home on the weekends.”

The program has been around since 2006. Today they ship out over 5,600 sacks each week to 31 counties throughout Iowa. Once the bags of kid friendly, nutritional meals get to the schools, staff members discreetly distribute the bags to kids in need every Friday. Lampe said it's a simple task, but an important one.

“Nobody wants to be singled out at school, but we want to make sure that kids are getting the nutritious food that they need and deserve,” Lamp said. “Kids don't learn well and have behavioral problems if they are not eating properly so this is a good way to help them keep up with that on the weekends before they get back to school so they are ready to learn and have access to a more consistent source of food while they are at school.”

Jefferson Elementary in Des Moines joined the program three years ago after nurse Carrie Ortega noticed many kids coming into her office hungry or showing symptoms of not getting enough to eat.

“Just getting the kids enough to eat is so important, [or else] they can't focus in school,” Ortega said. “Just getting breakfast in the morning so that their brains can function. If they don't get enough to eat you'll see them maybe fall asleep, complaining of stomach aches, headaches, tiredness, things like that. [Meeting] those basic needs so they can function and do their very best in school and get through the weekend is so important. It's just not something people think about really, you know, especially those who don't have to struggle paycheck to paycheck.”

Ortega says they have 20 spots for the program at their school. Jefferson is just one of 50 schools in the Des Moines metro that utilize this program.

The food bank said the benefit is felt Monday morning, having kids better equipped to learn.

Just a few weeks ago the program received a big $15,000 dollar grant from Prairie Meadows to keep fighting against childhood hunger.

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