When students are in class, teachers like Suzanne Combine can tell when there’s something wrong.
Sometimes, a student might say something outright, like, “I’m hungry.” Other times, the teachers might notice a student who is sluggish or tired, said Combine, a teacher at Sharpsville Area Elementary School.
That’s why there is a BackPack Program.
Elementary students might be getting breakfast or lunch at school, but little to nothing when they go home for the weekend. This is why about 50 students from kindergarten through fifth grade can be eligible for the Sharpsville BackPack Program, which Combine said provides students with a bag of food they can take home in their backpacks for the weekend.
However, students dealing with hunger isn’t unique to Sharpsville. In the Sharon City School District, the Rev. Dr. Glenn Hink of First Presbyterian Church of Sharon said teachers could tell Monday morning the students who weren’t eating over the weekend.
“They noticed the kids were coming in Monday pushing, shoving and cutting in line for breakfasts or lunches,” Hink said.
In the Sharon BackPack Program, food is provided to about 300 students from Case Avenue, West Hill, and Musser elementary schools in the Sharon City School District.
A backpack food program also serves the children in the Commodore Perry School District, where the Commodore Perry BackPack Program helps about 30 children a year from kindergarten to sixth grade, coordinator Carrie Boozer said.
“The numbers fluctuate every year, depending on students who move up into junior high school or kids leaving or entering the district,” Boozer said.
The backpack programs collect donations from community members and local churches in their respective areas. These funds go toward purchasing food from the Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County, where volunteers bag certain food items such as juice, cereal and fruit bars before the bags of food are taken to the schools.
The food is distributed discreetly to avoid highlighting any students’ issues with getting food at home, such as in the Sharpsville Area Elementary School where teachers place the bags in students’ lockers in the evening after class, Combine said. In Sharon, the bags are distributed during class and placed in the students’ backpacks, Hink said.
“I’ve seen kids go to their locker and take a peek in the bag. It’s heartwarming and exciting to know they can look forward to having something to eat and we know a lot of them share with brothers and sisters,” Combine said.
But even though most students don’t realize who receives the backpacks of food, Boozer said the students make sure to share their appreciation.
“We get some of the sweetest and cutest letters. The little kindergarteners, they want to write and just say thank you for their snacks,” Boozer said.
If someone is interested in supporting the backpack food programs, monetary donations are the best means as the three groups said it costs $225 to support a child for a year. On top of funding, Hink said the Sharon Backpack Program can also use more volunteers, who meet around 7 p.m. every Tuesday at the Community Food Warehouse.
“It’s people from churches, the community, and there’s some teachers — it’s this collection of people who want to make a difference in the lives of children,” Hink said.
Sharon, Sharpsville and Commodore Perry are not the only places where there are BackPack Programs. More than 900 students around the county receive the food, including Greenville, Reynolds, West Middlesex, Lakeview, Wilmington and Farrell.
SUPPORT THE SCHOOL BACKPACK PROGRAM
Commodore Perry BackPack Program:
Send checks marked “Commodore Perry Backpack Program” in the memo section to either: Coordinator Carrie Boozer at 423 Greenville Road, Greenville or Clarks Mills United Methodist Church, 3813 Hadley Road, Clarks Mills.
Sharpsville BackPack Program:
Make checks payable to First Presbyterian Church of Sharpsville, 603 W. Ridge Ave., Sharpsville, with “Sharpsville Backpack Program” in the memo section.
Sharon BackPack Program:
Send checks with “Sharon Backpack Program” in the memo section to either: First Presbyterian Church of Sharon, 600 E. State St., Sharon or Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County, 109 S. Sharpsville Ave., Sharon.
There are also programs in Reynolds, Farrell, Greenville, Lakeview, West Middlesex and Wilmington. Check with your local school district for donation information.