School is back in session, which means uncertainty of food for many kids
If you asked ten-year-old Chy what the effects of food insecurity are, she’d be able to tell you.
“If I had no food for the weekend, I would starve,” Chy says. “I would get a tummy ache, and I would get sick. I’d hope we would get food soon.”
It’s hard to believe, but one in five children in southwest Missouri know what it’s like to go hungry. Many of these children and their families are dependent on programs such as Ozarks Food Harvest’s Weekend Backpack Program to provide them with nutrition all weekend long.
As the school year begins, the COVID-19 pandemic is still having an impact on the children in our lives. Parents have lost jobs and continue to struggle financially. Some have been working overnight shifts and long weekends to try to make ends meet.
Sometimes this means kids have to be their own parents. They are the ones cooking, cleaning and helping with other siblings. For many, the weekend backpack food is all they have.
Westport Elementary School nurse, Jamie Brim, hands out 60 food bags each week of the school year. And then goes across campus to Westport Middle and delivers 18 more. The food is tucked safely – and discretely – inside student’s backpacks. Each bag contains nonperishable, child-friendly, easy-open meals that children can prepare on their own.
According to Jamie, this is one of the best things about the program. “It’s stuff that you don’t have to refrigerate. It’s got a good shelf-life and families don’t have to worry about it going bad if they don’t have electricity at home or a good-working fridge.”
For the students who find themselves alone during the weekend, the food items are easy to make by themselves. “[It’s] simple ingredients they can microwave easily, they don’t have to worry about using a stove and it’s something they can do on their own if need be.”
The pandemic has caused many families ’ living situations to change or become more unstable. Some families have been forced to move, double up with other families, or even worse.
Jamie knows firsthand that some families have faced such financial hardship, that they are now homeless. They live in the family car. If it’s a good week and they have the money, they will rent a room in a nearby motel.
“One family solely depends on [Weekend Backpack Program meals] because they don’t need a refrigerator,” Jamie says. “Most of them you don’t even need to microwave, so they don’t have to worry about finding a heat source. That mom is really appreciative because she doesn’t have to worry about where the next meal is going to be from for her kids. She knows that it’s going to be the Weekend Backpack Program.”
This fall, thousands of students across the Ozarks felt a huge sense of relief to be back in school. They were reunited with friends, teachers, classrooms and the security of food.
Each year, nearly 1,600 at-risk kids depend on weekend meals, thanks to the Weekend Backpack Program. We rely on this program to reach students with the greatest risk of hunger and provide a total of 335,000 meals each year.
“Students should be worried about what friend they’re going to play with,” Jamie says. “They shouldn’t be thinking about whether there will be food to eat or not.”
For just $30 a month (or a one-time gift of $360), you can sponsor a child and provide weekend meals for an entire school year. We know this program will give students one less thing to worry about. To make your gift, visit ozarksfoodharvest.org/donate and choose Weekend Backpack Program from the dropdown menu.