With 94.6% of students in School City of East Chicago receiving free or reduced lunches, it is understood that many of those students do not have ample, nutritious food to eat on the weekends when they are away from school.
FEC and the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana are working together to make the weekends a time of fun for students as opposed to a time of hunger. This is being accomplished through the BackPack division of the Food Bank of NWI’s Youth Hunger Relief program.
The BackPack program provides students facing hunger with backpacks full of enough food for six easy, nutritious meals every Friday throughout the school year. Each student in the program gets one backpack to get him or her through the weekend when school meal programs are not in operation. The students return the empty backpacks when they get to school on Monday so they can be refilled for the next weekend.
Each week, backpacks filled with food are given out to 200 students in East Chicago schools. This means a total of 7,400 backpacks are distributed throughout the entire school year.
The BackPack program was made an official program of Feeding America, the national network of food banks, in 2006. Currently, this program operates in food banks in 39 states across the country.
The Food Bank of NWI has been running its BackPack program in other local school districts for several years. These districts include Portage Community Schools, Merrillville Community Schools and School City of Hammond. However, 2014 was the first year that this program was brought to School City of East Chicago. This was finally made possible through funding by FEC.
Other local organizations contributing to this program are Community in Schools of Lake County and United Neighborhood Organizations Inc. These groups work to identify which areas and schools are most in need of the BackPack program and then help to distribute at those locations.
According to the Food Bank of NWI, children who receive backpacks through this program have shown increased energy levels, increased ability to concentrate and decreased tendencies for stealing food.
By making sure that students are well-fed throughout the entire week, Food Bank of NWI and FEC are helping these children to get more out of their education and have a brighter future.