“A recent statistic from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed 24 percent of children in Bradley County are living in poverty,” Chelsea Long, resource developer at The Caring Place, said.
“...Poverty has a lot of different barriers to it and facets. One of those is hunger and struggling for food consistency.”
The sack pack program began in January of 2012 thanks to a grant given by United Way.
Black Fox, Waterville and Valley View elementary schools currently benefit from the program. There are approximately 100 packs given to Black Fox and 50 each given to Waterville and Valley View.
“Our nutrition coordinator has assigned two breakfasts, with unrefrigerated milk, two lunches, two dinners, and vegetables to each pack. This is specifically for one child over the weekend,” Long said.
The packs are delivered to the schools on Thursday. Teachers and administrators place the packs in the children’s back packs on Friday afternoon. The packs are not passed out in front of the children’s classmates.
“We try really hard to make the packs look nice. The food is packed in white paper bags with stickers for decoration,” Long said.
“They are handled carefully so nothing will get damaged. We want this to be something the kids are proud of if they choose to show their classmates. One little kid said he felt like he was receiving a present every Friday.”
Long said the main focus of the program is to feed children, but teachers are helped, as well.
“Monday mornings before breakfast is the most difficult time because kids are hungry. We don’t really know what has gone on over the weekend, but whatever happened is combined with having not eaten much since Friday’s lunch,” Long said.
“They get to school and they are hungry, exhausted, on edge, and irritable.
“Studies have shown these programs help reduce school behavior reports and referrals. They help increase the student’s responsibility levels, attention, and grades. Students can focus on tests on Friday instead of how they are going to feed themselves or their siblings.”
The entire program costs about $40,000 a year with $20,000 going to Black Fox.
Both Waterville and Valley View require $10,000 a piece to finance the program.
The Caring Place plans to expand the number of students and schools receiving sack packs. Long said the organization is looking into corporate and personal sponsorships to go a long with fund-raising.
“We have a program right now called ‘Sponsorship for Kids.’ Five dollars provides breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for Saturday and Sunday for one child. Twenty dollars will cover one child for a month,” Long said.
“A lot of congregations have expressed interest in sponsoring kids and Cooke’s has been a huge support.”
According to Long, The Caring Place has been contacted about branching out into more schools.
A fifth-grader in the elementary program asked if he would still be able to receive sack packs in middle school.
“It really effected me that he would ask because middle school is terrifying,” Long said.
“It is terrifying for the students. It’s terrifying for the teachers. It’s terrifying for the parents ... it is a place of a lot of change. It is a nerve wracking thing for a lot of fifth-graders. It was a huge thing that he would still want the sack packs in the middle school.”
Julie Jones, administrator at The Caring Place, said she has literally seen children watch for leftovers after meals so they can put food in their pockets.
Long said students at-risk for hunger have been known to store food in their desks for the weekend.
“We were contacted by the only school in the county that is not a Title 1 school and they have identified students who could benefit from the program,” Long said.
Feedback received in May by students, teachers, and parents revealed The Caring Place is on the right track.
“It’s a new program and you have an understanding that there is always room for improvement, no matter how good the program is. You go expecting to hear, ‘This was good, but maybe this could be better,’” Long said.
“It was nothing but positive thankfulness from the teachers and students. Just hearing from the kids was really cool.”
Allison Housley, guidance counselor at Black Fox, said the program helps out many of the students’ families.
“I think it is a great program,” Housely said. “Both kids and parents enjoy it and it goes a long way to let someone knows someone else cares. This program helps on a lot of different levels. There is a sense of added security.”
Housely said the kids are excited to receive their packs on Friday. She also said the older ones recognize the need and say they are lucky to receive the packs.
For more information on the program, contact Long at (423) 472-4414 or email her at email@example.com.