GREAT FALLS - A local Great Falls food bank is on a mission to make sure kids solely relying on meals at school don't go hungry on the weekends.
It originally started with the four most impoverished elementary schools in the Great Falls Public School District. Nine years later, thanks to the Great Falls Community Food Bank, the program Backpacks for Kids is making sure children across the entire district have enough nourishment over the weekend so that they're ready to excel in the classroom come Monday.
Every child who's a part of the program gets a "backpack" A.K.A. a Ziploc bag full of items like milk, fruit snacks, granola bars, juice boxes, and soups. Without any questions asked, teachers will discretely distribute these "backpacks" to students in need.
It's specifically geared towards grades K-6th because they're not quite old enough to feed themselves, and some children rely solely on school meals. Meaning that may be the only meal they're receiving a day. This ended up causing some kids to have behavioral or attention problems resulting in class being interrupted.
"They were sleepy and acting out, and you can't think properly, and your brain does not function properly without nourishment so they're losing out," said Beth McKinney the fund development coordinator at the Great Falls Community Food Bank.
ABC FOX Montana asked what happens in the summertime? And the food bank said the school district has a separate program of their own where they take their mobile unit around to different parts of town providing lunches to anyone under age 18. If a kid walks up and says I need lunch, they'll give them one, no questions asked.
“With year over year participation increases in school breakfast and lunch, you can’t help but realize that there are nutritional gaps to fill in the evening and on the weekends. Having the Food Bank and Backpacks For Kids program to partner within the fight against childhood hunger further ensures our students are nourished and able to learn in our classrooms without the interruptions that exist when you are hunger,” said Jessa Youngers, RD LN director of food services and warehouse at Great Falls Public Schools.
As for what's next for the program, Backpacks for Kids doesn't run during summer break, but with an outpouring of support and monetary donations from the community, it's something they're looking into changing. After all, the food bank says, hunger just doesn't take a vacation.
The program costs roughly $80,000 a year, and starts this week (April 15th-19th).