Southampton teams up with food bank to feed at-risk students

Published 10:48 am Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Noticing that a number of students come to school malnourished, the Southampton County Public School Board has made the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore’s Backpack Program the school’s top priority. The nationally recognized program distributes nutritious food to children in need at the end of the school day and before weekends and school breaks.

“The reason for the program is to alleviate child hunger,” said food service supervisor Cheryl Bowers. “Research shows that hungry children do more poorly in schools and have lower academic achievement because they are not well-prepared for school and cannot concentrate. Also, hungry children have more social and behavioral problems because they feel bad, have less social interactions and it affects their minds.”

More than 87,000 children in the food bank’s coverage area are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school lunches, indicating that they are at risk for hunger problems. Teachers and administrators are responsible for identifying these students.

“Backpacks are filled with nutritious, non-perishable and kid-friendly foods that are provided twice a month to students on a Friday afternoon or over school holidays when they do not have access to the school breakfast and lunch,” Bowers said, noting that the food bank distributed more than 55,000 backpacks last year. “We are very discrete when it comes to the distribution of items to ensure that children do not feel uncomfortable.”

The program was developed in Little Rock, Arkansas, when a school nurse asked for help because hungry students were coming to her with stomachaches and dizziness. The local food bank began to provide students with groceries in non-descript backpacks to carry home. The Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore adopted the program in 2008, and its success has spawned a region-wide initiative.

School board member Donna Roundtree and her fellow parishioners at Joyner United Methodist Women’s Club have already donated several backpacks full of food items to Capron Elementary School for the program.

Boykins Baptist Church, Sycamore Baptist Church and Tucker Swamp Baptist Church have all pitched in various items for the district’s four elementary schools, as well.

The announcement of the backpack program coincides with National School Lunch Week, which started Monday and runs through Friday.