Philanthropy Friday: Feeding Our Kids 7 Day a Week

Each Friday, the another jennifer blog shares stories of those who incorporate philanthropy into their everyday lives – personally and professionally – in a creative and unique way. If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact Jennifer. You can view past posts from the series here.

One thing I’ve learned about being consistent with philanthropy is that way in which you give back needs to be meaningful. When the thing you do (whatever it is) means something personally to you, it makes you want to do more.

My husband first told me about the Backpack Program that was launched by the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP), an organization that is right down the street from my house. He heard about the program in a meeting and knew I would want to volunteer.

Over 80,000 children in the state of Maine qualify for free or reduced lunch through the National School Lunch Program and over 2,500 qualify in MCHPP’s service area. Maine has a food insecurity rate of 23.9% for children. These kids arrive to school on Monday morning hungry. They often rely on the food they get at school to keep them nourished throughout the week.

Feeding America’s BackPack Program  helps children get nutritious and easy-to-prepare food to keep them fed on the weekends. In the times I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer for MCHPP’s program – it’s actually hard to get volunteer slots! – we’ve filled 197 backpacks for kids in elementary schools in my local area. We stand in an assembly line and fill bags with things like fruit cups, pasta, rice, oatmeal, canned vegetables and fruit snacks. The bags are sealed and put into bins that are then delivered to the schools by other volunteers.

A Shipment of BackPack Program supplies from Good Shepherd Food Bank

A Shipment of BackPack Program supplies from Good Shepherd Food Bank

One time, I had the chance to fill bags with two teachers from Harpswell. When asked by the volunteer coordinator for the evening to talk about the impact the program has made in their classroom, one of the women could barely mutter the words “it’s been good.” She teared up and assured us that there were students in her class who truly needed the program.

In the Backpack Program, it is the teachers who identify the students that need the bags. As one of the teachers from Harpswell told us, she can tell which students aren’t getting enough to eat because they always eat the extra snacks she brings for kids who forget, and they ask for anyone’s leftover food. The bags are discreetly placed into the children’s backpacks by the teachers so the kids don’t feel ashamed of having to take food home.

As you can imagine, kids who aren’t properly nourished have problems concentrating in school. Their learning is affected. If kids are hungry in elementary school, how hard will it be for them to success later on in life?

I’ve talked with my elementary school-age son, G, about food insecurity before. We’ve participated in food drives and sponsored families during the holiday season. He is diligent about collecting Box Tops for his school, and he made sure he saved all of the lids to his Yoplait yogurt in the month of October so he could enter them online and help save lives.

A food drive poster made by an elementary school student for the Woodside Elementary School food drive.

A poster made by an elementary school student for the Woodside Elementary School food drive.

This week, G came with me to volunteer for the Backpack Program. He practically begged me to come, and I obliged. I told him it would be hard work, and he said he was up to it. He did great, of course. He packed fruit snacks and oatmeal and felt the rush of helping others in need. His own peers. He’s already asked to go back.

In January,  the number of bags we pack will go up to 225. It saddens me to no end that there are that many children in my area that are hungry. I want to feed them all.

With Thanksgiving next week, remember those that won’t have a Thanksgiving dinner. Consider donating to a local food drive or seeing how you can help out at a local soup kitchen or food pantry. I am proud to say that my fellow Mother of all Meltdowns authors and I have sponsored four families through the Scary Mommy Nation Thanksgiving Project.

MCHPP tells me the most important factors in their long term success are volunteers and donations of food and money. Of course the need is year round and not just the holidays. Feeding American suggests using their Food Bank Locator to contact your local food bank and find out about BackPack programs in your community.

Is there a Backpack Program in your local area?

I share this volunteer story as part of the BlogCause community.

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Comments

  1. says

    Childhood hunger is a cause that really moves me. I was stunned to see the food insecurity rate was so high in Maine. I’m always surprised when I hear such high statistics. I was moved to tears by your sweet G and his desire to help and enthusiasm to go back. I’m not surprised because he’s your son, but it’s just so lovely to see. Thank you for writing about this important topic. We all need to do our part! –Lisa
    The Dose of Reality recently posted..Pinterest Nightmare #132: The Pet High ChairMy Profile

  2. says

    1 in 5 kids in my county suffers from food insecurity. We have a local mission who sends kids home with a backpack full of food every weekend. My store will be a collection site for food and I will do whatever I can to support this program. Thank you for bringing awareness to this, Jen!
    Ilene recently posted..Upside DownMy Profile

  3. says

    I first heard the term “food insecurity” when I was serving on the board of an organization. And we weren’t even talking about the people our organization aimed to help. We were talking, out of earshot, about one of our very own board members. She has many kids. I’ve been staggered by that conversation since. I don’t know if we have anything like this at the preschool or the elementary school she’s starting next week. It requires investigation for sure.
    Tamara recently posted..My Very Thankful Heart.My Profile

    • says

      He’s amazing. His teachers have consistently said he’s a very thoughtful and kind boy. I’m so proud of him! I’ve always told him we don’t participate in fundraisers or food drives to get prizes or because the teacher sent a note home. We do it because people (or kids like him) need help. I also explain why we don’t participate in some (who can really?). It’s great to see him take on his own causes.
      anotherjennifer recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: November CampfireMy Profile

  4. says

    First, the fact that your kid WANTS to volunteer means that you’re doing something so, so right. Second, this is just cool. Too cool. Third, I’m always short on time lately, but it would be AWESOME to find time in my schedule to see if I could volunteer at our local food bank – they do stuff like this. You are so generous and giving and it’s AWESOME!
    Cyndi recently posted..A Poem: A Day in the LifeMy Profile

  5. says

    Jennifer, like most, we participate in our church and school programs, which send groceries for a week and a holiday meal to families in need. It’s true, however, that people need to eat all year, not just at holiday time. I know that our district has private funding from PTA donations and fundraisers to aid families in need, but I have never heard of the backpack program in our area. Hmmm…must look into this for sure.
    Kim @ Exquisitely Unremarkable recently posted..Prepping for Holiday TraditionsMy Profile

  6. says

    Jennifer,

    Thanks for helping out our organization and for taking the time to share your experiences with others. Not only do we need donations, but we need social advocates such as yourself championing our cause within their networks. Have a great winter.

    Brady Meisenhelder
    MCHPP Operations Manager

  7. says

    There wasn’t a backpack program when I was teaching, but I did have students in my class that I knew were going hungry over the weekend. The lunch ladies put together bags of food for the kids to take home on Friday so they would have something to eat. I was so happy knowing the kids at least had some cereal, string cheese, fruit, and milk for the weekend. This is a great program and really needed for so many homes.
    Allison B recently posted..Not all birth stories are happyMy Profile

    • says

      That’s awesome, Julie. G’s school had some sort of contest to see which team could bring in the most food and earn the most points (for doing good things, etc). His team won. He was so excited.

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