Every Friday afternoon, backpacks are placed carefully on the floors of the hallways in the elementary schools of Moberly, Mo. There are 106 of them, each with no child’s name and with no individual owner. The backpacks are there because the school staff realizes that without them, the children for whom they are intended might go hungry between the last bell of the day on Friday and the first bell Monday morning.
The backpacks are each filled with food. The idea is that the children who need the food will blend in with the hundreds of other boys and girls who get enough to eat at home and that the 106 children will feel no stigma.
“We began to realize that some of these children go home to houses where they literally may not eat over the weekend. And we couldn’t just sit back and not do anything to help them,” said Francine Nichols, the school staff member in charge of the backpack project. “So, three years ago, the backpack program started…We make sure that the food is the kind that a young child can prepare himself or herself, if need be. Because some of these children live in single-parent homes, and when that parent works, not only does it mean that there may not be enough food in the house, but there may not be anyone to fix the meal for the boy or girl.”
Moberly is far from the only school district in the country to have a program like this. Quietly, they exist all over the nation. The weekend-food programs are not run by the federal government, but by local communities that simply can’t stand the idea of children going without enough food. Much of it is provided by the Central Missouri Food Bank in Columbia.
Francine Nichols noted that some parents whose children have been helped by the backpack program contact the school when they have found work again and say that because they are back on their feet, they no longer need the assistance. “And then they begin to provide food for the program; they bring food to school to help other children.”