JUNCTION CITY — The potential for hunger can be as big a concern in the classroom as missed homework assignments. The New Lexington School District began the “Blessings in a Backpack” program to help curb student hunger.
Completing their classwork can be a strenuous enough task for a student without the added burden of worrying about where they and their family will find their next meal.
The Backpack initiative began two years ago after students began asking the kitchen staff for leftovers.
“Everybody in the system came together and worked to put the kids first. This program is handled very well and the crew has done a great job,” said New Lexington School Board President John McGaughey.
Since its inception during the 2016-17 school year, the Blessings in a Backpack program has provided on average over 200 per week or between 5-6,000 meals over the course of the school year. Food items are purchased through the program then bagged and are available for students to pick up at their discretion at the end of each school week. The goal is to provide meals through the weekend.
“We know that if kids do not eat, they cannot learn. The confidence, in which they pick up these bags, makes me feel like we are giving them something needed,” said Junction City Elementary School Principal Janie Halaiko.
The Backpack program received a boost recently with funding provided by the United Way, the organization donated $18,000 to the program, the extra resource to purchase the needed food items from Clark’s Grocery in Junction City.
“One of our goals is to reduce food insecurity in Perry County, and this is a great way to do that. We are investing in the Blessings in a Backpack program so kids can have food on the weekends,” said Meg Deedrick, Executive Director at the United Way of Muskingum, Perry and Morgan counties.
“It is very valuable and came about through a grassroots effort and we are pleased to be partnering with New Lexington Schools. The program is very much aligned with the United Way’s goals and was a no-brainer for our board and investment committee,” Deedrick added.
The funding will be used to purchase food from the local grocery to be distributed among the students both in New Lex and Junction City.
“We are very happy to assist with this program; it’s nice for a small town grocery to be involved with the school district,” said John Clark, owner of Clark’s Grocery, and a former student at Junction City Elementary. “We try to assist the schools in any way that we can and we are very happy to help.”
“Its nice to partner with Clark's,” said New Lexington Elementary School Principal Greg Grant. “We send our kids home with something they can have over the weekend, we worry about them getting everything they need over that long weekend.”
Dave Rupe, Director of Operations in the school district, says Blessings in a Backpack is similar to the recent summer lunch program that served more than 14,000 meals.
“It’s a humanitarian effort to make sure that our kids and families are fed,” said Rupe. “We are excited to work with Clark’s and with the United Way to feed our elementary kids who may need these weekend meals.”
“We are excited for the opportunity to participate in this,” Halaiko said. “Our kids look forward to the bags and ask for it.”
“When you are worried about where your next meal is coming from, it’s hard to concentrate on your ABC’s,” said Grant. “If we can take some of that stress away then this program is a tremendous success.”