Franklin Regional provides Backpacks to Go for weekend nutrition
With potential cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program proposed at the federal level, low-income families across the U.S. could face less access to nutritious food.
In the Franklin Regional School District, a dedicated group that includes students, teachers, counselors, parent-teacher organizations and others are working to keep that from happening through the Backpacks to Go program, which expanded to serve high school students in 2016 and expanded its summer program this year.
“It started out slowly, just kind of getting the word out, but it's been pretty steady over the past two years,” said Meg Keim, a parent volunteer who helps administer the program.
Backpacks to Go started in 2010 at Heritage Elementary School. This year, the program serves 71 students throughout the district.
Backpacks to Go supplies enrolled students discreetly with a backpack on the first and third Friday of each month, filled with easy-to-prepare meals and snacks for weekends.
The program was developed in response to an ongoing need by some students for nutritious food on weekends, when they do not have access to the district's breakfast and lunch programs.
“Our district kind of falls in a gap where we don't meet the criteria — through free and reduced meal numbers — to qualify for help from other places,” Keim said. “So the program runs solely through donors and the discrection of our counselors, who know who should be in the program.”
There are no financial requirements to enroll.
“We've had kids whose parents are between jobs and use the program on a short-term basis, or a tragedy happens and they need some help until they can get back on their feet.”
Following the 2016-17 school year, the program expanded to make more food available during the summer months.
“In the past, we'd referred people to a local food bank and given them one large box of food at the start of summer,” Keim said. “This summer we were able to give 20 families a box each month in partnership with Murrysville Alliance Church.”
Residents can donate food items, gift cards, or simply make a tax-deductible contribution. Keim said they also receive regular donations from the Murrysville-Export Rotary Club and the Murrysville Giant Eagle.
“But most of our donations are from residents,” she said. “It's amazing to see.”
To sign up to receive text messages from the Backpacks to Go program, text @backpackinfo to 23559.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.