Each weekend, packages of food are discreetly sent home with Green students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. Each package provides children with two breakfasts, two lunches and two snack items to ensure they are well-fed when not in school.
Appearances can be deceiving.
One in every four Green Local School District families lives at or below the poverty level, according to district officials. To better meet the basic needs of these children, Green Primary and Greenwood Early Learning Center are offering of a unique program dubbed Blessings in a Backpack.
"Approximately 25 percent of families in our schools qualify for the free or reduced lunch program," said Jennifer Doerrer, who helps to coordinate the program. "This program is designed to eradicate childhood hunger in at-risk families over the weekend."
Each weekend, packages of food are discreetly sent home with students. Each package provides children with two breakfasts, two lunches and two snack items. The selection of items is based upon guidelines set up by a dietitian from the program's headquarters.
"This food helps out tremendously," said Doerrer. "One parent told me that without the backpacks of food, her children would not have anything to eat over the weekend."
The Blessings in a Backpack program is in 43 states and serves 60,000 students through 546 programs nationwide.
To ensure that the program runs efficiently for 38 weeks during the school year, Doerrer has employed several tactics.
On average, schools involved the Blessings in a Backpack program spend $2.10 on each bag of food – $80 per year – it sends home.
“By watching for specials, we were able to reduce that cost to $34 last year,” Doerrer said. “If I see something for a few cents less, I go buy it. That doesn't sound like a lot but over the year and the number of children we service it can add up."
Food is stored at Green Primary and community volunteers help to fill the bags that are sent home with children.
"Our volunteers are very important," said Doerrer as an assembly line of volunteers filled backpacks in the school cafeteria. "Sometimes, a lot of volunteers show up and we get done fairly quickly. Other times, when only a few show up it takes a little longer. "
The program has garnered support from staff and community members. Even children in the schools have reached out to help their peers, Superintendent Jeff Miller said.
"It is great to see our staff and parents get behind it,” Miller said. (My son) started going through our cupboards to find food he could donate. And he actually picked ‘good stuff’ that he liked rather then his not-so-favorite items to donate."
For the program to continue, donations of money and food are needed. Last year, the program provided for 84 students in Green Primary and Greenwood schools. If there were also older children in the family, food packages were also provided for them.
Food donations can be dropped off at a box located at Queen of Heaven Catholic Church, 1800 Steese Road. For more information about providing donations or volunteering call Jennifer Doerrer at 330-896-3085 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional information about the Blessings in a Backpack program is available by calling Green Primary School at 330-896-8700 or Greenwood at 330-896-7474.