The Herald, Sharon, Pa.


January 14, 2013

Backpack food program to expand to weekends

GROVE CITY — Children will be less hungry on the weekends if Grove City leaders have anything to do about it.

“I personally can’t handle thinking about little kids going hungry,” said Beth Black, director of the Grove City Chamber of Commerce.

Black discussed the chamber’s initiative to send food home with needy children last week at a Grove City Area School Board meeting.

“I’m pretty sure we all agree that kids shouldn’t suffer,” she said, which is why Food for Kids Backpack Program was developed in 2011 – along with the Grove City Community Garden – out of a chamber initiative called Leadership Grove City.

The backpack program is now being headed by Grove City Young Professionals, which is the financial arm of the program; Grove City Area United Way, as administrators; and Grove City schools, which identifies the children in need.

The school provides breakfast and lunch during the school week but on the weekends some parents aren’t providing food for their kids “because they aren’t financially able, or they are not around,” she said.

The program is meant to fill in the gap by offering a bag of food that will be discreetly placed in backpacks of qualifying kids when they are at recess, “so no one knows who is getting the food,” Black said; however, excited kids often reveal the food themselves.

The bags will include items like two entrees, juice boxes, milk boxes, cereal box, fruit cup, pudding cup and granola bar. The food – which is bought at a discount from Save a Lot in Grove City – is kept simple in case there is no one to help the child prepare food at home.

“It will hopefully be enough to sustain them for the weekend,” Black said.

She noted that there are over 500 students in Grove City schools who qualify for free lunches, and nearly 140 qualify for reduced lunches.

It would cost over $67,000 a year to feed all those kids every weekend. “It’s not an extremely realistic goal to start with, but it’s a goal we keep in our hearts to feed every child,” Black said.

The program will start smaller. The school is reaching out to some families whose children receive free or reduced lunches and those identified by teachers.

“Teachers have a good idea of kids without snacks or if they are talking about being hungry,” Persch said.

It may take people awhile to catch on to the program, “and we know there are parents who won’t fill out the forms to get the food,” Black added.

Persch knows of at least one child who complains each day of “starving,” she said, “and says he doesn’t eat over the weekend.”

She will make sure food gets to that child, even if it’s through verbal permission from the parent, who has not responded to two letters, she added.

So far, $16,000 has been raised for the program, Black said, which is set to begin Friday. Cost is about $25 per month for each student.

Businesses have donated toward the cause, Black added, and organizers will solicit from churches and having a number of fundraisers, including one at Grove City Country Club in May.

“It’s something that pulls at everyone’s heartstrings because no one wants to see kids affected negatively,” Black said.

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