Weekend Backpacks ensure kids don’t go without meals
“When I was really young I walked in the kitchen thinking, ‘What’s for breakfast?’ But there was nothing in the cabinets,” Kitiana said. “My mother caught me digging in the cabinets and said, ‘Sorry, we can’t have anything for breakfast, lunch or dinner today.’ So we just snacked a little. It made me feel so hungry. It felt pretty bad.”
One in five children in southwest Missouri have felt the aching pain of hunger. These food insecure children are completely reliant on others to make sure they don’t go without meals.
Thankfully, hunger-relief organizations like Ozarks Food Harvest and its network of 270 pantries and programs are filling in the gap and feeding tens of thousands of kids each year.
Kitiana and her younger brother Thomas receive food through the Weekend Backpack Program.
Their school, Delaware Elementary, is one of 59 schools on the program feeding more than 1,600 children every weekend of the school year.
“My favorite thing in the backpack is the spaghetti and chocolate milk,” Kitiana said. “It makes me feel fantastic to bring the backpack home.”
Kitiana says it helps her family because her grandmother sometimes gets sick and can’t cook a lot of food, so the siblings grab something from their backpacks to help.
“It makes me feel good to have the backpack,” Kitiana shared. “It makes me feel very grateful.”
“One day we could run out of money and run out of food, but at least we’ll have things from our bags.”
Christy Wall, counselor at Cowden Elementary in Springfield, said the Weekend Backpack Program has been a crucial lifeline for her students.
“I’ve had students come to me and their stories can be heartbreaking. Being able to say that it’s okay, we can help out here, it’s huge,” she said. “Ozarks Food Harvest has done phenomenal things for our students.”
Cowden Elementary has a free and reduced lunch rate of 74 percent.
“Most of our parents are working parents, but one unexpected bill can make a difference if these kids get to eat,” Wall said.
Children can’t learn when they’re distracted by hunger. The side effects can hamper their ability to successfully perform academically and socially, creating significant obstacles for proper development.
“They are more angry than they should be, they are less motivated, they have a very difficult time paying attention,” Wall said. “If they don’t have the ability to [learn], they are going to miss out.”
It costs $300 to sponsor a child on the Weekend Backpack Program for one year. Donations are always needed to sustain and grow the program in Springfield and across southwest Missouri.
For the kids on the program, having the food for the weekend takes the worry away from the gap between school lunch on Friday and breakfast on Monday. Wall said it helps kids come to school ready to learn and make friends.
Wall said, “It’s great to see those smiles on their faces when they know they get to eat on the weekends.”