LAPORTE | With a startup grant from United Way of LaPorte County, The Salvation Army of LaPorte launched a pilot program, “Backpack Food for Kids” in March 2013 to provide nutritional meals over the weekend to food challenged elementary school children. Working with the cooperation and full support of the LaPorte Community Schools, the program began modestly with one elementary school and 50 students. In September, the program expanded to 3 elementary schools and 225 students. The backpack food program provides 5 to 6 meals for each recipient, equal to about 5,000 meals a month.
Food donations are welcome and a specific list of appropriate foods can be obtained from The Salvation Army of LaPorte. The list must be closely adhered to due to strict dietary and nutritional requirements and it is sometimes impossible to include some donations with the sack packed each week due to the item or items not meeting the necessary criteria according to Envoy Bethany Irwin, currently in charge of the Backpack Food for Kids program at The Salvation Army. However, no donation is unappreciated or wasted as those items that do not qualify for placement in the backpacks are placed in The Salvation Army Food Pantry to be given out to hungry families through the week. Monetary donations allow flexibility to acquire what is needed from the Northern Indiana Food Bank or local merchants to fill each backpack, Bethany added.
Plastic sacks are filled and placed in the children’s backpack. Each weekend children receive a backpack filled with 11 nutritional items, 3 pasta/meat cups, 2 cereal, 2 juice, 2 packages of crackers, 1 fruit and 1 cereal/fruit bar. Cost of the program is running between $9,000 and $10,000 for an 8 week supply of food; provided largely through the Northern Indiana Food Bank located in South Bend and Al’s Supermarkets in LaPorte.
Recognizing the startup grant from the United Way of LaPorte would not meet all the needs
through the end of 2013, The Salvation Army has received generous support from the community and applied for additional grant money in the hopes of gaining long term funding for the program. Envoy Greg Irwin states “grant funding will allow us to hire a part-time Backpack Food for Kids Coordinator, who can devote 100% of their time to preparing the weekly distribution of food to the elementary schools, fund-raise and complete additional grant requests. Expanding to additional schools or increasing the number of recipients at the existing schools is a function of the long-term funding. We expect to be able to announce in early November the results of our grant writing initiative.”
The Backpack for Kids program is a tremendous example of what working together can accomplish. The Salvation Army of LaPorte has partnered with the United Way of LaPorte County and the community at large to serve 225 deserving children in LaPorte. With continued support, collaboration, and hard work The Salvation Army of LaPorte believes that only the first chapter of a very long and wonderful story has been written.