Backpack program feeds children

Mary Atkinson · Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Due to errors in an article titled "Full backpacks, full tummies" in the Oct. 3 issue of the Index, we have decided to run the article once again in its entirety with corrections. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Although schools provide nutritious breakfasts and lunches during the week, some children don't get those needs met during weekend and holiday breaks.

In response, volunteers of the Backpack Program spend every Friday distributing backpacks full of healthy food to 50 children in the community deemed 'food insecure.'

The program, active in many other communities, was brought to West Liberty about five years ago with the help of resident Tammy Smith, a secretary at the University of Iowa.

At that time, Smith said the elementary school nurse had reported that, for some children, the only meals they were receiving were provided by the school during school hours.

According to Chris Wilson, Food Service Director for the WLCSD, approximately 60 percent of West Liberty students this year are receiving free or reduced breakfast and lunches. However, receiving nutritious meals at home may not be the case for some children.

Because of this, Wilson welcomes the Backpack Program.

"I think it's an excellent idea," she said. "I know we have children who go the whole weekend with nothing to eat."

Debra Lowman helps coordinate the program now. She said referrals for the program can come from any community or school-based program that feels they have a child who would benefit from the Backpack Program.

"It is important that the readers understand that the program is for nutritionally insecure children - not just low-income children," Lowman added.

She said the mission is to "provide nutritious meals that are nonperishable and easy to prepare for children who are 'food insecure' during those times that they are not at school, such as weekends, holidays, and summer breaks."

Also, the reason that the food is distributed in backpacks is to keep the child's participation in the program discreet. Lowman said children who live in poverty often suffer from a stigma and are usually teased by other children.

The backpacks are filled on Fridays at the United Methodist Church by program volunteers and then distributed to participating children at the school they attend.

Lowman said the food is acquired by local retailers and that the program itself is sheltered under the United Methodist Group federal income tax exemption ruling which recognizes the status of certain United Methodist organizations as exempt from paying federal income tax under section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Dave and Carol Bradley of West Liberty help support the backpack program. Dave said that after the first year the program began everyone involved made a promise to continue the program every year if possible.

"We realized that unless we meet the immediate needs of hunger - we are fighting a losing battle," he said.

Anyone needing more information about the backpack program may contact Debra Lowman at 319-331-5307. They also may contact Becky Vargas at 319-627-4451.
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