A new program designed to fight hunger is reaching several students in New London area schools.
Project Backpack New London (PBNL) is a community effort to meet a community need. This effort, launched in late 2012, has as its mission eliminating hunger in area schools one student at a time.
The idea began at Shepherd of the River Church in June of 2012, and was put into motion in January.
“We had thought about the idea of filling backpacks with food and distributing them to needy students for about a year and a half,” said Program Coordinator John Mast. “We work with the School District of New London to make sure the backpacks get to kids who need them the most. We fill them and deliver them to the district, and the district determines where the backpacks will go.”
The rationale behind the program is that in today’s difficult economic times, an increasing number of parents are finding it hard to provide sufficient food for their families. Although free or reduced breakfast and lunches have helped relieve some of this burden, many children still go hungry during the weekends away from school.
Possible participants are identified by teachers, guidance counselors, and school social workers, and then parents are invited by letter to participate in the program. A strict level of confidentiality is ensured with the names of the participants known to only a very small select number of school employees.
Mast, who volunteers at an area food pantry, saw several kids come in on a regular basis.
“We have kids and families in our area who are really struggling,” he stated.
PBNL, which has a sister/parent program in Waupaca, distributes backpacks on a weekly basis. Backpacks are filled with food on Thursday, delivered to schools for distribution on Friday. A team of about 12 volunteers work together to make it all happen, and Mast said the volunteer team is growing to meet the needs of hungry children.
The program is in constant need of volunteers. Areas in which volunteers are needed include packing backpacks, delivering backpacks to schools and picking up returned backpacks from the schools, purchasing groceries and supplies, stocking shelves, packaging bulk food items into individual portions, and providing needed funds and resources.
“The children we are serving get breakfast and lunch at school, so the backpacks are designed to provide meals for the weekend,” said Mast. “Currently, we distribute about 20 backpacks per week to Lincoln Elementary. We expect that to double by mid-April, and we plan to expand delivery to all School District of New London elementary schools, and then keep adding on from there.”
Backpacks are filled with healthy food and snacks. On Monday, or the first day of the school week, the child returns the empty backpack to their school to be restocked with food for the following Friday. Each backpack contains enough food for two light breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners, as well as a number of snacks to see the child through a weekend. For longer weekends due to school vacations, additional items are added to the backpacks. This program is available to students during the school year.
“We have had a lot of positive feedback so far,” said Shepherd of the River Church Pastor Dave Uden. “The school staff has been very complimentary. We’ve also been able to work with the Hortonville Community Food Pantry, St. Joe’s Food Pantry in Neenah, several area churches, Wolf River Community Bank, Citizens Bank, Hillshire, and Kwik Trip. Several individuals have made donations, as well as community groups like the Catholic Women’s Group at Most Precious Blood.”
Any businesses, service organizations, and/or individuals interested in becoming involved in this growing program can contact Pastor Dave Uden at 920-982-3737 or Program Coordinator John Mast at 920-982-4286.