“Snacks In My Backpack” Program Fills Nutritional Void

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On the most basic level, "Snacks in My Backpack" is an anti-hunger program.

But you could call it an educational program, too, and a unification program.
Karin Bright of Athens runs "Snacks in My Backpack" for the Athens County Food Pantry.
Bright says they got started in 2011 after "a rather generous donation".
"At that point, we did snack bags for every child that was either on free or reduced lunches and did that through the end of that school year. We found out at the end of that project that if we had done maybe 20, 25 bags we could have covered the entire school, so when we started it again in the fall we went ahead and made sure we were covering all the kids at Chauncey Elementary," said Bright. "We also got a call from one of the school social workers telling us that there was a need at The Plains and we had 15 kindergarteners that we covered through the school year for last year."
"Snacks in My Backpack" provides food for students to take home over the weekend. 
"We did things that were non-perishable and very easy to prepare, very minimal preparation. We would put in some kind of a little microwave pasta entree, either macaroni and cheese or Chef Boyardee, one of those types of things. We did boxes of cereal, we've done juice boxes, applesauce, pudding cups, cheese and peanut butter crackers. So it was stuff that kids could easily grab and eat, it didn't require a huge kitchen and require a lot of time and effort on anybody's part.  But we made sure that they at least had something that they could have for breakfast and some things to nibble throughout the weekend," says Bright.
Bright says alleviating hunger does more than keep stomachs from growling.
"The kindergarteners at The Plains, when the school social worker called me, she told me that the kids were coming in on Monday morning and they were so hungry that they would eat four bowls of cereal for breakfast, and we're talking kindergarteners. Even for a growing kindergartner, that's a lot of cereal for a kindergartener to eat. And she said the teachers were finding it would be a day or two before they were really filled up enough to become more attentive in class," said Bright. 
She explains that means better focus in the classroom, because hungry kids don't learn as well as kids that have full bellies.
Bright says so far they've provided food to more than 300 kids.
The program costs about $20,000 a year and she considers the money well spent.
"We would come in and kids would wave and smile and thank us as we came by, so I know they were appreciated and like I said, we got the feedback from the librarian who would tell us what the kids were saying and then seeing the kids and that was really very gratifying to see.  Even though I wasn't doing it because I wanted them to really love me and be thankful, but it was nice to see that they really did appreciate what they were getting and that they enjoyed it."
With a new school year, Bright is getting ready to start again.
She's aiming for mid September.
There's enough money to operate at least through December and she has several helping hands to fill the food bags.  Bright says she relies on a group of girl scouts, who are sophomores and juniors at Alexander High School, to help pack.  She says the girl scouts feel a connection to helping the kids who receive the snack bags.