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Backpack Buddies Program Helps Provide Food for Students
January 17, 2014

CAPTION: Zack Craven and Austin Whitney, students of Grand River Technical School's Career Independence Class, take food to Dewey School that will be sent home with students as part of the Backpack Buddies program. Students eighth grade and younger who receive free or reduced lunches are eligible for Backpack Buddies assistance. Each Friday approximately 120 students in the district receive backpacks with various food items to help get them through the weekend. The program is a cooperative effort among the schools, the Grand River Area Family YMCA, and the Second Harvest Food Bank in St. Joseph.

C-T Photo / Catherine Stortz Ripley

Last year, the United States Department of Agriculture reported 15.9 American children under the age of 18 were living in households where a consistent access to nutrition necessary to live a healthy lifestyle was not available. Backpack Buddies is one of many non-profit organizations combating child hunger across the nation.

Sandra Roberts, an instructor at Grand River Technical School, leads the manpower portion of the Backpack Buddies operation in Chillicothe. She said Livingston County's involvement with the Backpack Buddies program started more than a decade ago. "Livingston County was actually the first district in North Missouri to start up" Roberts said. "I believe they started delivering about 10 or 11 years ago."

Many Backpack Buddies districts are embedded within the schools, but others are operated by local churches and volunteer groups. Roberts said the Livingston County district was operated by United Methodist Church of Chillicothe up until about eight years ago. "My teacher's aide at the time went to United Methodist," Roberts explained. "At that time it was the volunteer senior citizens at United Methodist that would deliver. It was becoming overwhelming. It started out with just 20 to 30 and now we're up to 119. They called and asked if that was something my class would be interested in and we've done it every year since."

The Backpack Buddies operation in Chillicothe is a cooperative effort between the schools, the Grand River Area YMCA and the Second Harvest Food Bank in St. Joseph, Mo. Roberts explained the process. "The YMCA starts out the year and sets the number of students we serve," Roberts said. "They take money from local businesses and individuals to Second Harvest. Once a month, Second Harvest delivers pallets of food to the community food pantry. We go in once a week on Thursdays to pick up food for that week and we drop it off on Friday mornings."

Students in eighth-grade and younger who receive free or reduced lunches are eligible for Backpack Buddies assistance. Each Friday, the students receive backpacks with various food items to help get them through the weekend. "In one grocery sack of food, they'll get two meals and a snack - all nutritious stuff. It's not full meals, it's more like supplements to the meals."

Students from Roberts's Career Independence Class assist in the distribution of food. Roberts said the work gives her students a great sense of pride. "We have students from sending schools and we have Chillicothe students. Chillicothe students are excited to go back to their elementary schools. The high school students are very excited to go back once I explain that little kids look up to them." The younger Backpack Buddies recipients are also excited when food is distributed. "They see us in the halls and they'll stop and talk to us," Roberts said. "They really appreciate the food."

During the 2013 holiday season, the Backpack Buddies program partnered with the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America classes for a hat, glove and book drive. Roberts said the drive was very successful, as every Backpack Buddies student was given a hat, gloves and at least one book.

Sally Peterson, an employee of the YMCA who works to increase awareness and collect funds for Backpack Buddies, said she has been amazed with the support the program has received from the community. "People always find it in their hearts to give," Peterson said. "It's pretty basic when it comes down to hungry children. That's a very basic need, and people want to take care of kids."

For more information on the Backpack Buddies program, or to donate monetarily, call Sally Peterson at 660-646-6677.

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