After months of planning and hard work, this October will mark the kickoff of Knoxville Backpack Buddies, a supplementary food program launched by several employees with the Knoxville school district and Knoxville Hospital & Clinics. The program is designed to provide extra food for elementary children to have to eat during the weekends when they head home from school.
Knoxville Students in Need
Although Backpack Buddies is new to Knoxville, it is administered in other parts of the state. The program is run by the Food Bank of Iowa and is a program of Feeding America, a national organization dedicated to eradicating hunger. Knoxville school employees, Donna Flack, Connie Boldt, and Ruthann Burkman, along with Katrina Nelson from Knoxville Hospital & Clinics gathered to look into the possibility of starting a Backpack Buddies program in Knoxville.
“Research shows that hungry children have poorer mental and overall health, miss more days of school, suffer greater rates of behavioral disorders and are less prepared to learn when they are in school,” said Donna Flack, school nurse for the Knoxville school district. “Backpack Buddies supplies nutritious, child-friendly, self-serve food designed to help feed a child when they’re out of school, or they might not get enough of what they need. When a child is eating nutritious foods at home, they’re more alert and focused. It puts them in a better position to learn on Monday morning. This is truly an incredible program to be able to offer to our students.”
“Nutrition and good health go hand in hand and we are very excited to partner with Knoxville schools on the Backpack Buddies program,” said Katrina Nelson, Director of Public Relations at Knoxville Hospital & Clinics. “Backpack Buddies will help ensure our children get the appropriate nutritious supplements for the growth of healthy and strong minds and bodies and that is very important for their future.”
The Time has Come
To qualify to be a Backpack Buddy, the child must be of elementary school age and a participant of the Free and Reduced Meal Program. A permission form will be sent to the parents of each child participating in this program at the start of the school year seeking their permission for their child to participate in the Backpack Buddies program. Involvement in the program will be on a first come first serve basis. There is no cost for children to be a Backpack Buddy.
Backpack Buddies is designed to lessen the consequence of chronic childhood hunger by providing a bag of kid-friendly foods to low-income elementary school children on weekends when they do not have access to the federal free and reduced-price meal program. The heart of the program is the weekly distribution to children participating in the program. Plastic sacks filled with kid-friendly food are distributed to program participants every Friday afternoon or the last day of school for the week. Each bag will contain about 13 food items including pudding, fruit cups, main dishes, cereal, juice and other items, Flack said.
“The items should provide a child with enough nutrition to get through the weekend if it’s the only food at hand,” Flack said.
Confidentiality is key when it comes to distributing the bags of food. School staff members will place a bag of food in each child’s backpack during the school day at a time when the child is not in his or her homeroom.
A team of local volunteers will pick up food at the Food Bank of Iowa once per month and deliver it to East Elementary School, where it will be stored. Volunteers will then meet once each month to sort and pack the food into grocery bags for 30 children.
Nelson said once they know the program will run smoothly, they hope to expand the program to additional eligible students in the Knoxville school district.
How You Can Help
If anyone wishes to donate to the program, you may do so via the Food Bank of Iowa. Donations can be sent to Donna Flack, Knoxville Backpack Buddies, 102 N. Lincoln Street, Knoxville, IA 50138.
Knoxville Hospital & Clinics, a Critical Access Hospital serving Marion County and the surrounding area, is dedicated to providing personal, progressive quality health care with compassion. For more information regarding this release and other happenings at Knoxville Hospital & Clinics, call the Public Relations office at (641) 842-1418 or visit www.knoxvillehospital.org.