Helping Make Back to School a Hunger-Free Time for Kids
It’s the start of school this week for many kids across Arkansas. This should be an exciting time filled with new teachers, classrooms and friends. But for many kids, this also means that while they’re excited to get back to breakfast and lunch at school, they still don’t have access to food when they return home at night or on the weekends. We know that when a child is hungry, it makes it hard to learn and hard to play at school. Arkansas ranks 2nd in the Nation for childhood hunger. 1 in 4 children in Arkansas do not know where their next meal is coming from.
The Arkansas Foodbank is here to help aid these children and give them access to the nutritious food they need to grow and learn. Our Food For Kids Program includes our Backpack Program, Afterschool Feeding Sites and School Pantries to help reach those in need.
This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Food For Kids Backpack Program which was started in 1994 by the Arkansas Rice Depot to help get food to children facing hunger when school was out on the weekends. The Rice Depot was the first hunger relief organization to try this method and establish a Backpack Program. The program has now been replicated across the United States and internationally. Rice Depot merged with the Arkansas Foodbank in 2016, but the program has continued throughout schools in central and southern Arkansas.
Last year we packed 306,185 pounds of food into over 86,087 backpacks throughout the year, giving over 2,600 kids access to food they need to thrive.
AFTERSCHOOL FEEDING SITES
We have Afterschool Feeding Sites set up in our service area to help make sure kids are getting food before heading home to what could be an empty pantry. Last year we served 52,437 healthy snacks to over 400 children. At these sites, we also use it as an opportunity for kids to try new, healthy things that they might not have ever been exposed to or have access to on a regular basis.
Our School Pantries are set up to allow access to not just kids that may need food, but for families and faculty that could use a helping hand. Our school pantries are similar to our community pantries but are located on school campuses for students, faculty and families to get the nutritious food they need. Our School Pantry Program is still fairly new, but in 2018 our 10 school pantries served 9,308 children aged 0-17 and 8,659 households and distributed 270,591 pounds of food.