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Feeding America’s BackPack Program provides local youth with needed hope

By GARY MILES
Executive Director, Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland

Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018 — Four little kids jump off the school bus in wild anticipation, it’s the Friday before a long weekend. It feels like the first three-day weekend would never arrive; it’s been eons since school started instead of just a few weeks.

Three of the children run excitedly ahead, their book bags light from the lack of books and homework. These three are off to ride bikes and do other fun things during their long stretch of freedom.

But one little kid lags behind, stopping to open the heavy book bag, to examine the plastic bag that’s weighing it down. A smile appears on the child’s face and the weighted feeling disappears.

To others, it may look like a bag filled with snacks and assorted small cans, but to this one child, the bag and its contents represent hope. The child is now confident there will be something to eat until school is back in session.

One in four children living in central, southcentral, and western Kentucky find themselves food insecure, or lacking consistent access to enough food. While their breakfast and lunch may be covered by school nutrition programs, often times, dinner may still be an unknown.

To the one child out of four, the question is not what time will we eat tonight, but will there be enough, if any at all, to eat tonight.

In the United States, nearly 13 million children face hunger every single day. According to the most recent Map the Meal Gap study released by Feeding America, there are 11,239 children in Nelson County under 18 years of age. Of these children, 21.1% or 2,380 are food insecure and often don’t know where their next meal will come from, if at all. Hunger is harmful to everyone, but it can be especially devastating to children because of its potential for long-term effects.

Good nutrition, especially in the early forming years of life, is important for a strong foundation of a child’s physical and mental health, and academic beginnings. Hunger threatens this crucial foundation, which in turn, threatens a child’s ability to thrive.

GARY MILES

Schools and partnering organizations, such as Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland (FAKH), work together to make sure the nutritional foundation of a child’s life is covered. The schools, with the direction of Kentucky Department of Education and United States Department of Agriculture, provide breakfast and lunch to school-age children throughout the school year, and then again through summer feeding programs when school is not in session.

In Nelson County, the weekends are covered, as well, by a program designed just for school-age children called the BackPack Program. Family resource and youth services professionals and teachers help to identify children, ages 5-18, who may be at risk for hunger on the weekends, and with their assistance, FAKH makes sure bags are prepared to go home each week with the child. The program, now in its 12th year, serves children in 34 counties of the FAKH service area by providing bags filled with 14-17 kid-friendly, single serving foods to eat on the weekend.

Food items may include milk, crackers, macaroni and cheese, raisins, pudding cups, granola and cereal bars, ravioli, tuna – all of which help to fill a child’s stomach in between meals or when other substantial meals are not available at home. Each bag costs $3 to fill and distribute, $120 per child per school year will ensure their nutritional needs are met.

Together, school nutrition programs and the BackPack program continue to bridge the gap between hunger and a child’s stability. For the one in every fourth child, these programs could make all the difference in how the child will develop and mature into a productive adult, and not remain just a statistic.

For more information about BackPack Program in your county or to sponsor a child for a school year, call Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland at (270) 769-6997, toll free 877-532-2767, or visit www.feedingamericaky.org.

Gary Miles is the Executive Director for Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland, which provides hunger-relief programs in 42 central, southcentral, and western Kentucky counties. He can be reached at (270) 769-6997, 877-532-2767, or www.feedingamericaky.org.

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