The DeKalb County School System is helping to ensure that needy children have plenty to eat during the holidays while they are at home.
Through the"BackPack" program, children receive food they can take home for the holidays. This year, through the efforts of School Transportation Supervisor Jimmy Sprague, several children will also get a four to five pound cooked ham, donated by Prichards Foods and packs of peanut butter lunchables and fruit cups donated by Larry's Discount Grocery, according to Dee Anna Reynolds, School Health Coordinator. "We've added something extra to our Back Pack program for the Christmas program and we have Mr. Jimmy Sprague to thank for that. He has stepped up to the plate, volunteered, and opened the door for a lot of our kids to have a better Christmas. This year we are going to be delivering hams starting on Monday, December 19 to homes for our needy children and we're very excited about that. These are cooked hams so those babies (children) can go in there and eat and we won't have to worry about them being able to fix the food. The kids that go home with the back pack (foods), they'll go home on the bus on Thursday, December 15 with those (back pack foods). The hams that we're delivering won't necessarily all be for the same kids. There may be some overlap but we'll also have some extra food that we'll be able to take with those hams to those families. The food that we send home with the kids, when we purchase that food and receive that donated food, we try to make sure that its food that a child as young as pre-k or kindergarten can go home, open, and feed themselves. This time, they're going home with a fruit cup, a lunchable, oatmeal, animal crackers, Ramen noodles, bagged peanuts, slim jims, boxed cereal, fruit snacks, and of course the cooked hams that we'll deliver on Monday, and this year we'll put some blow pops in there to give them a little extra treat. It's a good bag. It's a bag that's large enough that the kindergarten students can carry it. Its not too heavy. They can make it last them a good week. We try to make sure that the food is healthy because that's probably the only food that some of those kids are going to eat. But it is healthy food for the most part," said Reynolds.
Sprague said he is thankful to the vendors for donating the hams and other foods. "I got with some vendors and friends of mine who wanted to donate but they didn't want to donate for any recognition. They're like me. Its all about the kids. The vendor that donated the hams this year is Prichards Foods in Alexandria. We've received fifty five hams for our under privileged children. That means a lot not only to the children but the parents, knowing that the children will have something to eat, especially over the school break during Christmas. A lot of parents work and the children are at home and there's nothing really for them to cook or eat so this (donation of hams) will coincide with the Back Pack program to give them something good to eat. I also want to thank Larry's Discount Grocery for helping us with a donation to the Back Pack program. I really appreciate all that they've done," said Sprague.
Reynolds said the children served through the Back Pack Program have been identified through referrals by teachers and faculty staff. "We went with teacher/faculty staff referrals and that's what we've kind of continued with. That seems to work better. We've been able to feed the children better and provide them with better food. That has given us the opportunity to save a little more money and feed the kids better. We also have another partnership through a company called Well Child, Incorporated. They come into our school, set up on-site and do well child exams for our children. Through a partnership with them, we've also been able to receive the funds to buy additional food. So along with those hams and the food that's been donated the kids will go home with a really good goodie bag of food," said Reynolds.
The Back Pack program was started in DeKalb County a couple of years ago, according to Reynolds. "We've tried a different approach every year. We started out the first year just feeding the kids during Christmas break and spring break. The second year we added fall break, Christmas break, and spring break. Last year we added Thanksgiving. This year we weren't able to get the ball rolling for fall break but we will feed the kids during this Christmas break and we have plans to feed them during spring break. With the work that Mr. Jimmy (Sprague) has done it has opened a door for us to be able to feed those kids. We're actually looking for some more partners who might be interested in helping us maybe by picking up a school. Just help us pick up a school and kind of take that school under their wing and feed those kids, volunteer to pack food, donate the food, we are open to anything anybody wants to help us with," said Reynolds.
The BackPack Program concept was developed at the Arkansas Rice Depot, after a school nurse asked for help because hungry students were coming to her with stomachaches and dizziness. The local food bank there began to provide the school children with groceries in non-descript backpacks to carry home.
In addition to providing nutritious food to school children in need, some BackPack Programs provide extra food for younger siblings at home and others operate during the summer months when children are out of school and have limited access to free or reduced-priced meals.
The BackPack Program became a pilot program in 1995. The National Council of Feeding America approved the BackPack Program as an official national program of the Network in July 2006.
More than 140 Feeding America members operated more than 3,600 BackPack Programs and served more than 190,000 children in FY2009.