It’s hard to focus on school when you’re hungry.
One in five children in Antrim, Charlevoix, and Emmet Counties lives in a household where there is inconsistent access to healthy food. As a result, many children face challenges at school. Hunger decreases a child’s ability to concentrate and learn, and keeps them from achieving their full potential.
According to Feeding America, children facing hunger are more likely to:
- Repeat a grade in elementary school
- Experience developmental impairments in areas like language and motor skills
- Have more social and behavioral problems
Manna’s “Food 4 Kids” program helps address this issue by providing elementary students with a backpack of kid-friendly food. Since students are not able to receive school meals on Saturdays and Sundays, these backpacks provide children with supplemental food items to last them through the weekend.
Students are eligible for the program if they qualify for free or reduced-cost meals through the National School Lunch Program, or by the recommendation of a teacher.
Each week of the school year, dedicated volunteers assemble and deliver about 1,800 backpacks to 40 elementary schools, Head Start services, and pre-school programs.
With the help of a dietitians and student surveys, we frequently update the contents in the backpacks to make sure they are healthy and kid-approved. For the 2019-2020 school year, each backpack includes:
- 1 Chef’s Cut Meat Stick (1 oz.)
- 1 Mott’s Juice Box (6 oz.)
- 1 Kellogg’s or General Mill's Cereal (1.8 - 2.5 oz.)
- 1 single-serve packet of Meijer Instant Oatmeal (1 oz.)
- 3 Meijer Fruit and Grain Bars (4 oz. each) Strawberry, Mixed Berry, and Apple Cinnamon flavors
- 1 White Cheddar Cheese Stick (1 oz.)
- 1 Meijer Organic Applesauce (4 oz.)
The annual cost of the backpack program is well over $200,000, with an estimated cost of $3.15 per backpack.
Manna also supports middle school pantries in Boyne City, Charlevoix, Harbor Springs, and Petoskey, and coordinates the addition of fresh fruit to each backpack distributed to Charlevoix and Beaver Island elementary schools and pre-school programs.
Our volunteers often say this is their favorite program at Manna, and it is highly recognized by children in the participating schools. Here are some of the things they’ve said in our follow-up surveys:
“They are fabulous and we are SOOOO grateful for them and all the volunteers that make it possible!”
“[I feel] a bit more secure about my next meal.”
“They make me feel happy and not so hungry over the weekend.”
“I worry less about what I am gonna eat. I hate being scared about it so I hide it and so does my sister.”
“My teacher says I get one because I am a very special person and someone cares about me enough to make sure I have the bags. That makes me feel very happy, but I know it is because we never have food. Thank you for helping me, I hate being hungry all the time.”
Backpack delivery drivers receive group hugs, sweet comments, stories, and cheerful thank-yous from the children when they drop off the backpacks. In this way, “Food 4 Kids” holds a special place in our hearts.