In order to address this issue, the Gordon County school system initiated a program called Backpack Buddies which supplies children with food for the weekend if they are not receiving adequate meals at home.
According to Amanda Schutz, school advocate for Calhoun City Schools, the concern was that school officials were unsure if students who qualified for free breakfast and lunch at school were being fed while at home at night and on the weekends.
The “backpack” is discretely given to children on the last day of the school week, usually Friday, filled with various food items for them to take home.
According to Schutz, the inspiration for Backpack Buddies started at Belwood Elementary School after a teacher noticed that some of her students were coming to school hungry.
Since that time, Backpack Buddies has become a countywide initiative to care for the needs of children when they are away from school.
“We just saw the need there, that we had a lot of families in need, and we knew that a lot of our kids were eating two meals a day at school and asking for food to take home,” said Whitney Carnes, school social worker for Gordon County, about the creation of the program in all Gordon County schools.
Since the beginning of this school year, Calhoun City Schools have provided 160 children a week with food for the weekend through the Backpack Buddies Program, according to Schutz.
This average is up from the 143 students a week last year, Schutz said.
Gordon County schools provide food for 204 students a week with their Backpack Buddies program, according to Carnes.
Calhoun City Schools have been participating in Backpack Buddies for three years, and the Seventh Day Advent-ist church in Calhoun supplies the food.
The church puts the bags together and school officials distribute the bags to children in need, said Schutz.
The bags typically consist of two breakfast items such as a Pop-Tart or cereal bar, one to two lunch items, a snack and a juice box, said Schutz.
“It’s something they can do themselves and doesn’t take a lot or preparation,” she said.
How to qualify for the Backpack Buddies program:
There are two ways to qualify in the city schools:
*The first way to sign-up for the Backpack Buddies program is self-referral. Parents who are in need of assistance can contact the schools to see if they qualify for enrollment.
*The second way is if a teacher notices a particular child who seems hungry or says they are hungry, the teacher can contact the child’s parents and asks for permission.
*To qualify in Gordon County schools, students must also qualify for McKinney-Vento benefits. Only children who attend a school in Gordon County qualify.