The Idaho Foodbank Backpack Program focuses on helping children who are residents of Idaho get food during the weekends.
Every Friday, each participating child receives a backpack with enough food for two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks. Meals consist of nutritious, child-friendly items that are easy to prepare and taste good, according to idahofoodbank.org.
Rebecca Ristren, Eastern Idaho branch manager of Idaho Food Bank, leads the office in Pocatello. There are other offices in Boise and Lewiston.
“Our backpack program serves an average of 1,800 chronically-hungry children statewide each week through the school year,” Ristren said. “We also have additional programming and food distribution through our network of 200+ partner agencies, mobile pantries, senior centers, feeding sites.”
Ristren said that in eastern Idaho they are reaching approximately 30,000 individuals a month; however, the need is upwards of 55,000 individuals, and 21,000 of those are children.
Within the U.S. 48.8 million, including 16.2 million children, live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. As a result, they struggle with hunger at some time during the year, according to the No Kid Hungry Website. Idaho Food Bank has eight full-time employees who work year-round directly with the program.
Ristren said it takes the collaboration of the full team at The Idaho Foodbank and the recipient schools to make sure the backpack program operates smoothly and efficiently, from the drivers to the CEO.
“Volunteers play a major role in everything we do at The Idaho Foodbank,” Ristren said. “Not only do we utilize volunteer groups to prepare the bag that goes into the backpack, we have volunteers that repack bulk product into family size bags.”
She said volunteers also cover some of their administrative tasks, do fundraisers, food drives and participate in helping the partner agency and mobile pantry distributions.
Over 73 percent of children who received the backpacks responded that the they made them very happy, according to idahofoodbank.org
Dino Lowery, food coordinator for FISH, an organization that is a partner with Idaho Food Bank, gave an interview for Local 8 News on Nov. 21.
“When kids came to school on Monday morning and were very hungry, they were either very sluggish, or if they had a package of Oreos for breakfast, they might be very hyper and be misdiagnosed as ADD,” Lowery said according to Local 8 News “When in reality, they had just had a big sugar dump for breakfast. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that hungry children don’t learn well.”
Ristren said the backpack program is a great way to provide nutritious meals to students discretely to support not only their health, but also their ability to learn and thrive.
“In addition to our backpack program, our school pantry program works collaboratively with Idaho Schools to serve families with children living with the burden of hunger throughout the state,” Ristren said. “These programs, along with others such as our Senior Food Boxes, help us work with our neighbors to create a hunger-free Idaho.”