Backpack Program feeds hungry children
TNE Editor
/ Categories: Feature, Local

Backpack Program feeds hungry children

Published 2/26/18

Sydney Russell

TNE Writer

Tahlequah Public School has partnered with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, the community and local businesses to feed hungry students over the weekend. Through this program an estimated 120 students are being sent home with plastic bags containing food. The number is continuing to grow.

The Backpack Program started in 2003 when an Oklahoma City elementary student fainted from hunger while waiting in line to get food on a Monday, due to not having food over the weekend.

The Backpack Program currently reaches out to more than 500 schools across Oklahoma.

Tahlequah Public Schools has been using the Backpack Program for the past 10 to 12 years, said Tanya Jones, TPS director of Federal Programs and Indian Education.

Cherokee Nation also partners with the Backpack Program and has donated over $75,000 to 20 organizations who participate in the Backpack Program. Over $2,500 went to Tahlequah’s program.

One in every six children is facing hunger. Students across the country, in every community, are facing this hardship and carrying it into the classroom with them.

Lack of food can cause many problems for children. It causes behavioral issues, psychological effects such as aggression, anxiety and a delay in social skill development.

Children are not going to be as successful at school when they are distracted by hunger, said April Bardell, Central Academy office manager.

The Oklahoma food bank teaches staff how to identify hungry children, and Tahlequah Public Schools has Care Team meetings to discuss the student cases. The families of each student are asked if they would like their child to be signed up for the Backpack Program.

The plastic bags are packed with basic food covering essential nutritional needs including water, milk, crackers, vegetables, fruit, soup and dessert. The bags are being donated by Reasor’s.

Each bag is packed by volunteers. Teachers, TPS students and NSU students are scheduled to come in and pack so the bags can be handed out on the last day of school each week. Funding is provided by local churches, businesses, private donations and the Oklahoma food bank.

“Volunteering for the Backpack Program is one of my favorite things I get to do each week,” said Julie Ferguson, Greek Sing director and Backpack Program volunteer. “I am so excited that we chose this program as the official philanthropy for Greek Sing. Giving back to the community is something that I value highly.”

The Backpack Program has recently been able to send students home with food for extended holidays. Extra food was donated by Reasor’s for the holidays.

“For Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, we were able to send the students home with three to four sacks of food each,” said Bardell.

Sacks have also been delivered to students’ homes during the summer.

TPS is currently preparing sacks to be sent home with students over spring break.

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