By Emily Younker
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The Joplin Schools Foundation is looking for additional funding sources for its snackpack program, which in the past 20 months has doubled the number of students it feeds each weekend.
“Because the amount of students we’re serving has increased, so has the funding required for the program,” said Bailey Stehm, donations and event coordinator for Joplin schools.
The program gives backpacks filled with kid-friendly and healthy snacks — juice boxes, granola bars, packages of fruit, microwaveable meals — to qualifying students each weekend.
Before the May 2011 tornado, the snackpack program was serving 372 students in pre-kindergarten through the fifth grade, Stehm said. Since then, that number has risen to more than 650 students, she said.
“We do believe the tornado was a tremendous factor in that because the program almost doubled,” she said. “We know that all of our students were impacted (by the tornado) in some form or capacity, so we feel it’s important regardless of their situation to provide them with this program.”
Students are recommended to receive snackpacks by their teachers or other school staff. Participating students also must meet eligibility requirements for the state’s free and reduced-price lunch program.
According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 61 percent of Joplin students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches last year. That percentage has consistently risen from 54.5 percent in 2009 and is significantly higher than the state average of 49.5 percent last year, according to the department.
Stehm said having consistent meals is a vital factor in a child’s ability to learn in school.
“We really believe it’s part of leveling the playing field because all children should have the same opportunity to be nourished when they come to school,” she said. “If they’re hungry, they’re unable to focus in school, so we feel that providing them with a meal over the weekend and that kind of support is crucial to their school preparedness — and not just their performance in class, but their overall attendance and their overall health.”
To help fill the funding gap as the number of students in the program has risen, the Joplin Schools Foundation has launched a campaign on the Internet-based fundraising site fundly.com. A link to the campaign can be found on the school district’s website.
“We’re trying to raise $25,000, which would represent approximately half of our funding gap between pre-tornado and post-tornado needs,” Stehm said. “This amount would also represent the funding to feed over 600 students for two months.”
The district will also host a fundraising event for the snackpack program during the March 21 Third Thursday in downtown Joplin in which attendees will sample menu items from participating restaurants and food vendors.
Tickets for the event, which are $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 6 to 12, will be available beginning Feb. 7 at a fundraiser kickoff at the Qdoba restaurant in Joplin, Stehm said.
A donation or sponsorship of $5 fills a backpack for one student for one weekend, said Bailey Stehm, donations and event coordinator for Joplin Schools. A $20 donation feeds one student for one month, and $180 feeds one student for the academic year, she said.