EXETER— The second most important thing a student needs, beyond the basic school supplies, is a healthy meal. Sadly, due to circumstances out of their control, far too many students go without. That is why Exeter Unified School District (EUSD) is partnering with a local non-profit Food Link to bring back the Back Pack for Kids program for this school year.
“I think we are extremely lucky to participate in this program that works so hard to help students who are at risk of hunger when they do not have access to school meals,” said Dr. Michelle Pengilly, Exeter Unified’s director of English language development and special projects.
With this program, EUSD will focus on their two elementary schools, Lincoln and Rocky Hill. The district reasoned that older students, like those in junior high and high school, are more than likely able to prepare meals for themselves.
In order to determine if a child qualifies for this program, the district has a set of guidelines that they follow. The criteria is based on household needs and income in order to see if a student is in extreme circumstances. If it is determined that a student fits the criteria, a request to be added to the program is made from the district’s staff. A permission slip then is sent home in order to get the family’s approval. All of this is done with the utmost care to not to single out any students.
“It’s a criteria that we follow in order to help a child decrease hunger in our students,” said Pengilly.
Once a student is a part of the program, they receive a plastic grocery bag every Friday afternoon filled with enough food for two breakfasts and two lunches. Breakfast can include plastic cereal bowls with milk. Lunch can be as simple as an easy open can of ravioli. It also includes snacks, like gram crackers or fresh fruit. If the kids are going on a three-day weekend, the district try to put extra meals into the bag.
This is where Food Link comes in to assist EUSD with supplying food. They help different school districts with the supplies necessary to fill the bags. For Exeter, the goal is to help approximately 75 students, which is up from last year’s mark of between 50-58, with this program beginning on Sept. 1. The cost for each individual student in this program is $25 a month. That means that a total of $16,875 of the monies raised will go to help Exeter students.
A school needs only to contact Food Link and request to be part of the program. Food Link will see if they have the funding to help that school. In order to help this school year, Food Link has raised $112,500 from local donations and corporate funds raised during their annual “Drive to Feed Kids” dinner, which was held on Aug. 12. This school year, Food Link is going to provide 500 of these bags each week to schools throughout Tulare County.