Almost 60 percent of the children who will attend elementary school in eastern Pike County this year will get needed nutrition through the national free and reduced-cost meals program.
The problem for many of those children is that they go hungry on weekends, according to school officials. However, local churches are now seeing that many remain nourished by supplying backpacks full of food for them to take home on Fridays.
School staff members refer students to the program and they simply pick up a bag or backpack of food. The bags include two breakfasts, two lunches or dinners, fruit and snacks.
School officials and volunteers say the concept is simple. Nourished children can learn easier and perform better when they aren’t wondering where their next meal is coming from. The backpack programs serve as an extension of what many of them are already getting at schools through the free and reduced program.
However, children who receive free and reduced-cost meals are not the only one eligible for the backpacks. Officials at all three schools know that food needs spring up after a parent is laid off, medically disabled.
In Louisiana, Lane’s Backpack program has been taken over by the Ministerial Alliance. Lane stands for “Love and Nutrition Enclosed.”
It was started two years ago by Jeanna and David Machon, who have moved from Pike County.
Now Pastor Jeffrey Dock, of the Trinity Lutheran Church, and the Rev. Pat Glenn, of the Calvary Episcopal Church, are spearheading the nutritional program. They are helped by many volunteers, which include Louisiana City Clerk Sharon Kakouris, who is affiliated through her church.
“We don’t know who the students are and we don’t try to find that information out,” Kakouris said. “I don’t like to see children go hungry.”
Through Lane’s Backpack program, “You know that they’re getting some kind of nourishment.”
“We hope to get a community board together to keep this going,” Pastor Dock said.
The program is down to $200 and will need monetary and food donations before issuing backpacks and bags of food in a few weeks when the need is established.
There are only about 150 backpacks left and donated plastic bags are needed because the program may more than the 135-150 students who received food last year.
The need “reflects the poverty level in Louisiana,” Dock said.
“If they had more, our kids could use it,” said R-II Schools Superintendent Dr. Richard Basden. “It’s a huge help and we are very blessed that they are doing this. People don’t realize that hunger is closer than you think.”
For the Clopton and BONCL elementary students in need, the Ramsey Creek Baptist Church has run Operation Backpack for the last few years.
The program runs similar to the one in Louisiana, where volunteers fill bags that are taken to the schools.
Volunteers Barbara Colbert and Cathy Mitchell run the south county program. About 25 to 30 Clopton students received the food and about 15 at BONCL last year, Mitchell said.
The program started after a strong observation from the Clopton Elementary staff.
“It came to the attention of the cooks and teachers that the students were capable of more after they ate on Mondays,” Colbert said.
“We try to select foods for them that are simple to prepare for themselves,” like chicken noodle soup or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. “There is a real need,” she added.
How to donate
Here’s how to donate money or food items to the backpack programs.
For Louisiana students, checks can be made to LANE’s Backpack Program and sent to: First Christian Church, 517 South Carolina St., Louisiana, MO, 63353. For more information, call Pastor Dock at 754-6120 or the Rev. Glenn at 754-6423.
For Clopton and BONCL elementary students, checks can be sent to: Ramsey Creek Baptist Church, in care of Operation Backpack, 20389 Hwy. W, Clarksville, Mo., 63336.