Weekends are supposed to be a time to relax and re-energize. Sadly, for thousands of kids in San Diego County, weekends bring dread. For many, their last meal of the week is Friday's school lunch. Finances are so tight at home that there is little or no food in their refrigerator. In fact, 1 in 5 children in the county are food insecure – they do not always know where their next meal is coming from. It is heartbreaking. When their stomachs are empty, it is hard to relax and play, much less focus on homework or even sleep. For those kids, weekends and breaks are anything but joyful.
The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank is making a difference in the lives of many of these young people. This year, the Food Bank is partnering with 37 elementary schools throughout the county to provide child-friendly, nutritious food to 1,733 children every single Friday through our Food 4 Kids Backpack Program. The Food Bank provides bags of food that school staff discreetly insert into students’ backpacks before each weekend, ensuring the kids have enough food to get them through. With that backpack of food, the kids are able to relax, play, focus, sleep and return to school on Monday ready to learn. It is important, because to be schooled, they must be fueled.
The ultimate goal of the Food Bank is to break the cycle of poverty and helping children succeed in school is the first step.
A social worker with one of the partner schools shared a story that illustrates the importance this program has on participating students. She wrote:
One of our children in the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program was having a "bad" day. Although it was about 9:30 in the morning, he decided he wanted to go home and quickly went to find his F4K backpack (ignoring his school backpack which was with his food backpack) and put it on. For about an hour, school staff tried to re-engage him in the lesson – throughout this whole time he never put down his food backpack. It wasn't until we headed to the office to leave that he returned for his school backpack. With all that is going on with this child, he made sure, if nothing else, that he had his food backpack!
The program is incredibly important to the schools. One teacher who coordinates the Backpack Program for an elementary school in the South Bay area shared a story about a new third grader who had recently enrolled in their school, and it was clear the youngster needed additional nourishment. They had one additional bag available, but then the teacher learned the eight year old had a younger sibling in Kindergarten who would certainly need extra food, too. The teacher contacted the San Diego Food Bank to request additional assistance, knowing resources were tight. When the teacher learned she could add the additional child to the weekly distributions, she broke down and wept on the phone. She sees her students coming to school hungry, and knows they cannot learn when their stomachs are aching with emptiness. Knowing she can turn to the Food Bank for help is a powerful thing.
Many schools report improved attendance in participants. Here is what one school reported on a specific student:
From Q1 to Q2 2015-16, there has been an increase in this student attending on Friday simply due to the fact that they know this is the food distribution day. This student has had chronic attendance issues on Fridays, almost as if they are taking a 3-day weekend, every weekend. Once they were signed up for the program at the beginning of the year due to obvious need, we started to notice that more Fridays than not they were at school. At first we did not really know what the change was, and then it clicked that Fridays is the day that the student goes home with food and if they aren’t here on Friday, then there isn’t food at home during the weekend. It was kind of amazing to see how something so small could make such a huge impact.
The following story, recently shared by a school staff member, speaks to the value the kids see in the program:
One student loves the Food 4 Kids program so much that he has gone around and found other students that he knows are in need and tells them about the program. This student has come up to me and asked about getting his cousin into the program because he knows how much it could benefit his family. He is also helpful in identifying other students who may have fallen under the radar of the teachers and faculty members. This student tells me every single Friday how much this food helps out him and his family and he is so grateful to Food 4 Kids.
In addition to the kid-friendly packs of food the participants receive every Friday, the San Diego Food Bank provides a larger family pack of dinner food once every month, and family packs of oatmeal twice each month. The Food Bank is able to provide all of this food for an entire school year for just $198 per student. On average, each school has 50 students on the program, so that’s $9,900 per school. When a school is accepted onto the program, they remain on the program indefinitely; and they are assured that they will be provided this resource for as long as they need it.
We are making a difference in the lives of many children. Learn more about ways you can help!