Every weekend, 2,000 New Albany Floyd County Schools elementary students go home hungry. That’s 46 percent of kids in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. Blessings in a Backpack is working to fight childhood hunger.
By Avery Walts
Blessings in a Backpack was developed five years ago in Louisville as a non-profit organization with the mission of providing elementary schoolchildren in need with a backpack of food to take home over the weekend. Since its inception, the organization has been implemented in 800 schools across the country. The Floyd County division joined the roster a few months ago with the same goal of creating a “hunger-free zone” for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch during the school week. Now, every elementary school in the county receives Blessings of some sort.
The way program works is simple: each recipient receives two lunch/dinner entrees, two complete breakfasts and two snacks, all of which are placed into a backpack on Friday to take home for the weekend. “This is a way to provide nutrition for (students) so they are ready to come back to school ready to learn and ready to work,” said Stephanie Watson, Fairmont Elementary School first grade teacher and Floyd County Blessings in a Backpack chair. “If they come to school hungry from the weekend, they’re not ready to learn and work in classrooms on Monday morning.”
Fairmont Elementary – along with S. Ellen Jones, Green Valley, Slate Run and Mt. Tabor elementary schools – have high populations of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, which means Watson witnesses childhood poverty daily. “I’ve always worried about my kids when they go home and whether they’re going to have enough to eat or if someone will be there to make them something,” she said. “It’s always been a concern of mine.”
Over the last several years the Blessings program has been funded through four major donors. However, some of the donors have pulled out, leaving the program with a shortage of funds to support the program for the entire 2015-16 school year. The Floyd County Blessings in a Backpack chapter was formed to help raise the money needed for the children of our community to receive the food they need. The Horseshoe Foundation and the City of New Albany have continued their support and the group is working on securing more donors to continue the program. The cost to feed a child for a school year is $80, which breaks down to $2.11 a weekend. The group is asking for individual sponsors along with corporate sponsors.
“We need donations to make sure that the funding is in place,” Watson said. “I’ve had kids digging through trash for food so they could take it home and eat it later. You don’t think about poverty in that way, but when you have a six-year-old worrying about what to eat, that’s not something they should be worried about.”
Watson believes in order to create a better future for kids the change has to start now. “I know this sounds corny, but the children of our community are our future and if we don’t take care of them, who’s going to? They grow up to be our police officers and our lawyers and our doctors and nurses, so this is the point in their lives when they need us the most,” she said. “I can’t see anything else more important than that.”
How Can You Help?
Want to donate or volunteer with Floyd County Blessings in a Backpack? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to blessingsinabackpackfloydcounty.org for more information. You can contact the national office, which is located in Louisville, by calling 800.872.4366.