Weekly Feature

2017-10-12 / Education

Backpack program to help hungry pupils

Cleve Hill

Thanks to legwork done by its school counselor, Cleveland Hill Elementary will introduce a free program next month that will send backpacks filled with food home with needy students.

Known as the Food Bank of America BackPack Program, the effort is a first for the school and the district. Principal Patrick McCabe said it’s a way for Cleveland Hill to support needy students and families and connect them with the Food Bank of Western New York, the program’s sponsor.

“We’re obviously trying to get meals in the hands of families that are in need, but we’re also seeing it as an opportunity to link those families to have easier access to the Food Bank outside of what the school can provide,” he said. “We know that when children are well fed, they’re ready to learn.”

McCabe said Cleveland Hill qualifies for the program due to the free and reduced lunch rates it offers, and will partner with the Food Bank to fill backpacks.

According to a New York State School Boards Association video shown by McCabe documenting a similar program in the Albany area, students perform better academically, attend school more often, and are less likely to be disruptive in class when they eat healthy food seven days per week.

Elementary school counselor Kelly Pokigo, who will serve as coordinator for the program, said food items, which will come in boxes pre-packed by Food Bank volunteers, will be delivered to the elementary school’s loading dock twice per month and be distributed on Fridays.

The items, which will include kid-friendly options such as cereal, applesauce and soup, will vary according to a rotating group of menus she will create.

“It’s something new, because I know a lot of times when families go to the Food Bank, it’s often the same food,” she said. “They deserve to have variety, too.”

Pokigo said she can order additional food in anticipation of holiday breaks and indicated that deliveries will regularly include items such as oatmeal, to make boxes a lighter load for the students carrying them home.

To keep program participation discreet, teachers will be notified of which students are participating and asked to maintain confidentiality, and students will board buses immediately after receiving their food.

McCabe said the elementary school hopes to have 20 to 25 students participate in the program at the outset and will be sending an informational letter to all families in the district with children in third through fifth grades.

“If that goes well, then we’ll look at [Universal Pre-K] to grade two,” he said.

To learn more about the BackPack Program, call the elementary school’s main office at 836-7200, ext. 8200.

email: arizzo@beenews.com

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