foodbank's 'backpack for kids' program kicks off another year of feeding hungry students

The Cleveland Foodbank has a message for Cuyahoga County children as they head into another school year: "You will never go hungry."

The nonprofit food distributor is fulfilling this promise through its annual "Backpack for Kids" program. Throughout the academic year, the Foodbank will partner with 30 schools and afterschool programs to provide children with nutritious meals, says Karen Pozna, the organization's director of communications.

"There are too many kids in Cleveland who don't know where their next meal is coming from," says Pozna.

The program works like this: At the end of each week, backpacks filled with healthy food are discreetly handed out to school children to take home over the weekend. The packages are made up of a variety of items -- cereal, tuna, peanut butter, beef stew, canned vegetables and fruit, soup, pasta, and a kid-friendly treat like peanut butter crackers or yogurt snacks. Each child receives enough food for six full meals.

Food banks across the U.S. are involved with the initiative, notes Pozna. On average, the Cleveland chapter's Backpack for Kids program provides about 3,000 backpacks each week.

Good eating habits are a critical facet of academic success, Pozna says. The backpack program began after teachers noticed their students were coming into school on Mondays feeling sick from lack of proper meals over the weekend.

Statistics further reflect the need for the program, says the Foodbank spokesperson. About 28 percent of Cuyahoga County children under the age of 18 lived in poverty last year, says Pozna. In addition, one third of recipients at local hunger centers are children.

Back-to-school season can be a particularly difficult time for low income families trying to put three square meals on the table each day. "Kids are getting lunch and breakfast at school, but they don't always get proper nutrition at home," Pozna says.

Source: Karen Pozna
Writer: Douglas Guth
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