PORTAGE | Three years ago, longtime elementary school teacher Lil Falk saw the effects of hunger in her classroom.
She saw youngsters -- who were on free and reduced-cost lunch at school -- go home for the weekend and wondered if they would have a meal before Monday morning.
She learned of the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana's backpack program, which provides a bag containing six meals and two snacks, given to qualifying children on Fridays to help them get through the weekend.
Falk took it to her church, Portage First United Methodist Church, which helped sponsor some children. Other churches joined.
But as the percentage of children who qualified to receive free and reduced-cost lunch grew in Portage schools to 53 percent, Falk said more had to be done.
"We need to come together as a community," she said, adding she talked with Mayor James Snyder and Greater Portage Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terry Hufford about the effort.
"At a meeting we had 20 people. We had people from other churches, we had bus drivers, we had school administrators," Falk said.
The outcome has been a community-wide effort to sponsor Portage youngsters for the program. The chamber sent the business community an email request for $200 sponsorships to provide students with a backpack for 40 weeks.
"Portage, as a community, really stepped it up and is working together," said Megan Sikes, communication/advocacy manager for the food bank.
"It is a national program. Studies indicate that the only reliable meals youngsters get are breakfast and lunch at schools. Then they go home on the weekend," she said.