Backpack program helps needy families

Sunday, September 20, 2009
Naghma Khalid, left, Cathy Clippard and Becky Kies stuff food items into backpacks Friday. Needy children will receive the filled backpacks through the United Way and the GRACES program (Giving Responsibly, Advocating for the Community and Excelling in Service). (Fred Lynch)

Jefferson Elementary School is starting two programs this fall to help families in need.

On Friday, the school launched the Backpack for Friday program in conjunction with the Southeast Missouri Food Bank and GRACES Women's Council.

Each Friday, 36 students will receive backpacks full of nonperishable food like canned vegetables, soup, crackers, bread and peanut butter. There will be four rotating menus so families receive different foods every week, said Karen Green, director of the food bank. The food will supplement the family and feed three to four people.

"It's a very simple-to-implement program that helps feed these hungry children," Green said. She said she wants to expand the program to other schools throughout the food bank's 16-county service area. The Sikeston School District will start the program soon, she said.

"We wanted to start close to home so we could manage them and learn how to do this well," she said.

She said there is a waiting list of other schools that want to participate, but the food bank is focusing on expanding at Jefferson. Initially 80 families qualified for the program, but the most the food bank could fund was 36.

She said it cost $8,000 to start the program at Jefferson. It costs about $6.50 to fill a backpack each week, or about $230 for the year, she said. The Women's Council helped fund the program through a United Way grant. The organization also volunteers to help fill the backpacks, Green said.

Jefferson has the highest rate of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch throughout the Cape Girardeau School District. Principal Mark Cook said more than 85 percent of the school's population qualifies.

The backpack program is a discreet way to provide families with food, he said. The parents arrive Friday afternoon to pick up a 10-pound backpack and return it with the student Monday.

"Parents are struggling and trying their best," said Jamie Jones, Jefferson's parent liaison.

The school is also preparing for Jefferson Gives Back Day on Saturday. Families will be able to shop in the gym for free. Jones said she has been collecting furniture, clothes, bedding, small appliances and cosmetics to distribute.

She said parents can collect items for their children, home or themselves.

"I have a lot of moms looking for work, and they're nervous about having something to wear," she said.

The school will be open from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday for families who want to shop.

Anyone wishing to donate items can bring them to Jefferson Elementary, 523 S. Minnesota Ave. The school will accept donations until Friday. To donate food or volunteer for the yearlong backpack program, call the food bank at 651-0400.


Pertinent address:

523 S. Minnesota Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

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