Healthy Harvest Food Bank (HHFB) has expanded its BackPack Buddy Program to Colonial Beach and Essex County helping to keep more kids fed when they’re not in school.
The BackPack Buddy Program provides weekend meals for students in grades K-12. The packs include cereal, milk, four entrees, fruit cups and sometimes an extra snack to ensure the children at participating schools have access to balanced meals over the weekend.
When HHFB CEO Mark Kleinschmidt came to the organization seven years ago, the program was only in four schools. With the latest expansion, the program is now serving every public school in the Northern Neck as well as students in Middlesex and Essex. One private school is also participating in the program for a total of 24 schools served at the moment.
“We have been trying for years to build this program in every school, and we were finally able to receive a grant to offer this in Colonial Beach and Essex County,” Kleinschmidt said. According to the VA Department of Education, 84% of all the students in Essex County qualify for free or reduced lunch, and in Colonial Beach that number is 77%. So, the need is very high in these two areas, he added.
HHFB is serving 120 students in Colonial Beach along with another 120 in Essex, and the organization is glad that’s able to help these students at this time. But the organization wants to be in a position to do better.
HHFB is getting a lot of positive feedback about the program from the schools. Klienschmidt said one principal has already reached out to ask if it was possible to serve every kid in the entire school because there is such a need. Unfortunately, that isn’t possible at this moment.
HHFB’s goal is to see this program in every school on a regular basis and also to be able to feed any student that needs it. But of the two dozen schools currently served, only 19 are served on a regular basis, and HHFB is hoping to find a means to continue the program in newly added localities in the fall.
HHFB was able to expand the program to Colonial Beach and Essex thanks to a grant from Bay Aging. Since there is no guarantee that more funding will follow, to be prudent, the organization is planning for the program to end with this school year, but the hope is that additional funding will come through to carry it to the fall.
Program costs vary, but it takes at least $1,000 to get started, said Kleinschmidt. Prices change quite often, but on average it has cost about $6 to feed one student for one weekend or about $200 per school year. In one county, HHFB is receiving upward of $20,000 a year to keep the BackPack Buddy program going, said the HHFB CEO.