The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

On The Table

March 20, 2013

Snackpack program feeds 650 Joplin schoolchildren

JOPLIN, Mo. — Not all children attending the Joplin School District get three square meals a day. In fact, teachers observed that some students were going without food, especially on the weekend. That observation led to the creation of the Snackpack program in January 2011, with more than 350 students receiving weekend snacks.

Gayle McAllister, president of the Joplin Schools Foundation, recalls the moment she heard about the plight of some of the district's students.

"Teachers said they knew that some kids weren't getting enough to eat at home. When they returned to school on Monday morning, they would be so hungry they would ask for two breakfasts," McAllister said.

In 2011, the program was started through local churches and organizations adopting schools and sending in weekend snacks. But as the need grew, McAllister said, it was evident that more food needed to be sent home with students to feed their siblings who were also going hungry. The snacks needed to be nutritious, and they needed to be something that could be prepared in homes where there might not be water or electricity. Some snacks even needed to be edible for kids staying in cars or shelters.

Today, more than 650 kindergarten- through fifth-grade-age children attending Joplin schools have been identified as not getting enough to eat. The students, who receive two meals a day at school, are recommended for the program. McAllister said a parent cannot call and request it.

"We have gone over the list again and again, hoping that there is a way to reduce the number of backpacks we fill each Friday. The need is there," McAllister said.

Funding for the program now takes $100,000 in contributions a year. Donated space in a warehouse is used to store the food and pack the backpacks each Friday. McAllister said funds come in small amounts as well as through large corporate donations.

"We just know that there's no certainty of how long we can keep this program going," McAllister said. "No school funds can be used. We rely on the generosity of the community."

A fundraiser set for 5 p.m. June 20 in downtown Joplin will benefit the program. McAllister said $5 feeds a child for a weekend; $20 for a month; and $180 for a school year.

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