GUILFORD, Maine — In a district that has a high poverty level, SAD 4 school officials know there are pupils who go hungry on weekends and vacations.
That soon will change. Next month will be the initiation of The BackPack Program, a program to meet the needs of hungry children in prekindergarten through grade 12 who rely on free or reduced-priced meals in school but have no outside resources to help them when not in school.
Under the national program, funded locally through a collaborative effort between three organizations: Penquis, United Way of Eastern Maine, and the Partnership Food Pantry, children from low income families are eligible for a backpack of nutritious foods to take home each Friday during the school year, free of charge. The backpack, which might include tuna, chicken, peanut butter, soup, juice boxes, canned pasta, vegetables, fruit, pudding, snacks, cold cereal, instant oatmeal, granola bars, and crackers, will be refilled each Friday.
The three organizations selected SAD 4 for their pilot project because of the district’s high free and reduced lunch rate of about 70 percent, according to SAD 4 Superintendent Paul Stearns.
A similar program called Blessings In A Backpack, funded through grants and local donations, has been offered in SAD 41 in the Milo region.
”The back-pack program is one more piece to the wellness program in SAD 4,” Stearns said Monday. The district has nutrition lessons and policies that have improved the nutritional value of its food service offerings. It also offers a free breakfast to every student in the district representing Guilford, Sangerville, Abbot, Parkman, Cambridge and Wellington, and has fresh fruit and vegetable snacks for the elementary students, he noted.
Stearns said the district will help the organizations identify families that could use a little help during this difficult economy and the organizations take it from there. ”Well fed students are more apt to experience academic success, which makes this endeavor a nice fit for us,” he said.
The BackPack concept was developed at the Arkansas Rice Depot, after a school nurse asked for help because hungry students were coming to her with stomachaches and dizziness, according to the organizers. The local food bank then began to provide the children with groceries in non-descript backpacks to carry home.