Backpack Program Closes Weekend Gap

Posted at: 04/16/2013 5:44 PM
By: Dan Conradt

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- For many kids in our area, the best part of the school day comes at lunchtime.

But there's a new effort to make sure that kids are getting the food they need -- even on weekends.

When the Women's Leadership Initiative of Mower County was created, it set a goal of meeting the basic needs of children. And it starts with food.

"A weekend backpack program that supplies nutritious food for children and their siblings under 18" said Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt, director of the Mower County United Way.

"There are kids who rely almost solely on the breakfast and lunch they get at school" said principal Dewey Schara at Neveln Elementary School in Austin.

They’re meals that aren’t available over the weekend.

"We take a look at providing a meal, a breakfast, a fruit and a snack for both days for all kids in the family" Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt told us.

Kids who might need food for the weekend are identified by teachers, who send a note home, asking parents if they want help.

"If mom and dad give permission, then we send the backpack home on Friday. It gets returned the next week for us and we fill it back up again" the United Way’s Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt explained.

The Women's Leadership Initiative also plans to implement personal care closets in each of Austin's elementary schools by the time school starts next fall.

"So when children arrive at school and they need laundry soap or socks and underwear, teachers can discreetly make sure they get these items" Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt said.

And there IS a need.

“If you take a look at our needs assessment which is a few years old now we were already higher than the state average in terms of poverty here" Mandi Lightizer-Schmidt explained.

Neveln Elementary School principal Dewey Schara already has an established backpack program at his school … and he says it’s paying dividends.

“The research on nutrition and performance in school is irrefutable. You've got to eat, you've got to put food in the machine for the machine to work well."

The Women’s Leadership Initiative falls under the umbrella of the Mower County United Way.

The group will hold a fund raiser called “Power of the Palate” on Friday, May third at the Austin Country Club.

Contact the United Way to learn more.