Food for Kids: Second Harvest helps feed hungry students on weekends
By Joel Davis | (email@example.com)
We’ve all heard about apples for teachers, but how about backpacks of food for hungry students?
Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee is stepping into the breach with its Food for Kids program in order to help feed students who might not have enough food at home during the weekends, but it needs community help to meet the demand.
“We have been receiving some support, which is fantastic, but it is a very expensive program for Second Harvest,” Executive Director Streno said. “We are expending more than $1 million per year to feed these 11,000 children in our 18-county service area. We are in all the schools, but what we’ve had to do is put a cap on it. We can only feed the neediest 50 children at the schools.
“If there are more than 50 children at that school that need this weekend feeding program, unless the schools is adopted ... we can’t feed them.”
Food for Kids is a collaborative effort between Second Harvest Food Bank and schools throughout East Tennessee, including Blount County. Teachers identify children in their classrooms whom they believe are going without meals at home. These children are discreetly given a sack full of healthy food for themselves and any siblings they may have at home every Friday throughout the school year.
There are currently 969 children receiving weekly bags of food at 26 different schools, just in Blount County.
Second Harvest operates Food for Kids in 18 East Tennessee counties, at more than 240 schools. In Blount County, Second Harvest has 13 of the 26 schools currently linked with financial sponsors who cover the Food Bank’s food expense to supply children at that school.
“It’s really hard to put into words to how important it is to many of the children in Blount County schools,” said Mary Beth Blevins, Blount County Schools coordinated health coordinator. “Yes, they would be going hungry on weekends without the Second Harvest backpack program.”
700 in Blount
More than 700 students participate in the program in Blount County Schools. “The program does not have an income requirement,” Blevins said. “These children can come from all walks of life. “Sometimes they are our economically disadvantaged children, sometimes they are children who both parents work on the weekend. These are children who are too small to cook for themselves basically. It allows them to have these easy-to-prepare, easy-to-open kinds of meals that prevent them from having to do any complicated cooking.”
Being hungry has far-reaching impacts on students and their ability to learn. “I liken it to trying to drive your car with the needle on empty,” Blevins said. “You cannot learn well if you do not have adequate nutrition. The brain operates best when you’ve had adequate sleep, a good healthy breakfast, a healthy lunch and a little physical activity.”
The average annual food cost to feed hungry children at one school is $3,000. Second Harvest needs additional donors who are capable of sponsoring a school for $3,000 or one child for $60 per year.
Deb Skyler, director of the Family Resource Center for Maryville City Schools, and Heather Ledbetter, MCS coordinated school health coordinator, said the program is very useful for their system.
Program may expand
Maryville City Schools uses the program in Foothills, Sam Houston and John Sevier Elementary Schools as well as Coulter Grove Intermediate School. The system is looking at starting it at Montgomery Ridge Intermediate School and possibly Maryville High School and Maryville Junior High School.
“We are allowed to help 50 students per school, and at the beginning of the year it doesn’t start out to quite that many, but we will build to that amount,” Skyler said. “The Family Resource center will kick in and start providing meals for those students above 50. We receive funding for that through our Maryville City Schools Foundation children’s fund. Second Harvest is what we rely on to help as many students as possible before we go into that.”
There is no single type of students that receives the aid, Skyler said. “It’s a broad spectrum, but it’s not all free and reduced lunch. It is every child who needs more food, particularly in the weekends when they are not in school. It may be that they are served once or twice and maybe the family is back on their feet and the family is not served after that. The list is constantly in flux and changing.”
The contents of the backpacks are designed for convenience. “It’s a variety of food items from granola bars to macaroni and cheese to raisins and dried cranberries, peanut butter and cracker,” Ledbetter said. “It’s got to be things that our elementary school students can fix safely and open by themselves.”