Source: Sherman Publications

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Backpacks full of food for Lakeville kids

by Lance Farrell

August 01, 2012

A good meal is just as important as school supplies.
Blessings in a Backpack. That's what Lakeville Elementary students will receive this fall.

Pending approval by the Oxford School Board, Lakeville Elementary will take part in a national push to eliminate childhood hunger by sending students home with a backpack full of food. Lakeville currently provides free or reduced lunches to 174 students, all of whom will be eligible for the weekend backpack should the program receive board approval.

According to Assistant Superintendent Dr. James Schwarz, the Oxford school district has a total of 1,104 students receiving meal subsidies.

Cheryl Whitton, the Michigan chair of Blessings in a Backpack (BiB), said the backpacks will be sent home on Fridays with meals for the weekend. Included in the backpacks will be six meals worth of nonperishable food items like peanut butter, tuna fish, beef ravioli, macaroni & cheese, apple sauce, 100 percent fruit juices, fruit and granola bars, oatmeal, canned soup, 100 percent fruit juice snacks, and Ramen noodles.

The program is funded through corporate and individual donations, which are then used to purchase food items at discount from Meijers. The six meals sent home in the backpack every weekend cost $2.30. One hundred dollars will feed a single student every weekend for an entire year, said Whitton.

BiB has not had any trouble finding food for the students. Meijer has become a partner, with CEO Doug Meijer sitting on the national board for BiB. "Wherever there's a Meijer's store, they like to participate and if there is not a Meijer, Wal-Mart has stepped forward and also some local grocery chains in other parts of the United States," Whitton noted.

Founded in Louisville back in 2005, the organization has now established programs in 19 Michigan communities. During the 2011-12 school year BiB fed 500,000 Michigan students.

Teacher and administrators at Clarkston said the program was "amazing," and cite the backpack program as a chief cause for the dramatic increase in student attention, attitude, test scores, and an accompanying drop in problem behaviors. An improved classroom atmosphere has been created, and though it's impossible to say which single component is to credit, Clarkston teachers point to BiB as a very important plank in the change.

Whitton is quick to admit that the BiB program was "probably not the only reason, but it was the only thing that changed for Clarkston) this past year," so she tends to agree with teachers about the worth of her program. "It's amazing (what can happen) when kids are fed," she wryly observed.

If approved by the school board, Lakeville Elementary will implement BiB beginning this fall. Fully 41 percent of Lakeville students currently benefit from the free and reduced lunch program, so Whitton and parent sponsor Cheryl Verbeke think the school is a good target for their efforts.

North Woodward Community Foundation is BiB's fiscal sponsor in southeastern Michigan, and they help communities set up programs and get the word out about childhood hunger to educate the community.

Blessings in a Backpack relies on citizen cooperation to succeed, so if folks would like to donate, checks may be made payable to NWCF/ Blessings in a Backpack. Donors can indicate to which community they'd like their funds to be directed. You can reach them at 1120 E Long Lake Rd. Ste. 205 Troy, MI 48085. Donations are also accepted through the BiB website, which can be seen at www.blessingsinabackpackmi.org

Whitton looks for BiB to continue its efforts in coming years. She paints two scenarios: "I would hope one day to (either) have a (BiB) program in every community within the state or hopefully we'll solve the problem of childhood hunger first--one of the two."

Expect the Oxford school board to make a decision on implementing BiB in Lakeville at their next meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 8.