Tyler is one of the 18,000 children who enjoys the BackSnack program run by Harvesters.
Imagine coming home from school on a Friday afternoon. You look in the refrigerator and the cabinets and there’s nothing for an after-school snack or for dinner that night, or even food for the weekend. You know that you’ll be hungry.
That’s the reality for 12.9 million children in the United States who live in food-insecure homes. These are children who have limited or uncertain access to enough food to live an active, healthy life. Children who experience food insecurity can be at a higher risk for impaired development and behavioral problems at school.
In Harvesters’ 26-county service area, 108,240 children are considered food insecure. That’s one in six children age 18 and younger. Only 58 percent of these families with food-insecure children qualify for federal nutrition programs such as SNAP (food stamps), WIC, or free and reduced priced lunch at school.
But there are children like Tyler, who attends Warrensburg Middle School, who don’t have to worry about weekend hunger because of Harvesters’ BackSnack program.
The BackSnack program serves more than 18,000 students every week during the school year. The program provides a backpack full of food for students that have limited or no access to complete meals on the weekend.
Each bag provided to the student includes two breakfasts, one milk, one bottle of water, two meals, and four snacks. Each bag has at least one option for fruit and one vegetable. Fresh produce also is offered with the bags. The students have the choice of an apple or an orange to go along with their BackSnack.
“Some people have less food at home than others,” Tyler says, looking down at his BackSnack filled with healthy food. “These bags are really important.”
During a recent evaluation of the program, teachers and school counselors were asked to complete an online survey, collecting attendance data, discipline referrals, grades, and learning behaviors of their students that received the BackSnack. The teachers and school counselors reported that grades in all four subject areas studied (English, math, social studies, and science) had improved between the first and third quarter. They added that attentiveness, classroom participation, and on-task behavior had improved, while tardiness and discipline issues had reduced.
The parents of BackSnack students reported on the use of the BackSnack program when their children brought the bags home every weekend. Many of the snack items (examples: saltine crackers and SunButter, fruit leather, dried fruit mix) were often consumed before the students walked in the door. Some parents were not aware the bags regularly came with the snack items!
Parents were quite clear that none of the food they receive goes to waste. In addition, parents say the BackSnack provides an opportunity for kids to try healthy food options – foods they may not have had the chance to try before. Some parents take an item from the backpack and add other ingredients or use it to make another dish that their kids enjoy.
Harvesters’ BackSnack program began in 2004 with a pilot project serving 30 students at one school. Today, Harvesters serves more than 18,000 students at 484 schools. With the assistance of committed partners like the Health Care Foundation, Harvesters has been able to make this program the largest backpack program in the nation.