It is a reality that many children in our community face. Hunger. And when a child goes hungry, it can affect so much of their lives. They have difficulty focusing, are fatigued and have less energy. Ask any teacher and they will likely confirm this for you. Thankfully, in Boundary County, there is a program for school children that ensures they have nourishing foods throughout the three-day weekends.
The BoCo Backpack Program has been a blessing for families in our area who struggle to put food on their tables. Their mission is to send food home with each child in need on the last school day prior to the weekend.
Shirley Anderson volunteered a great deal in Naples Elementary School when her children were younger, and she witnessed firsthand the need in Boundary County. So, when BoCo Backpack Program was established in 2010, she could not pass up the opportunity to be involved and make a difference. And she is not alone.
“We have seven active volunteers and numerous people in support positions,” said Shirley of the people who work diligently throughout the year to benefit those less fortunate.
The program currently serves all three elementary schools, Mount Hall, Valley View and Naples, as well as Boundary County Middle School and the early Head Start program.
“We blanket all the schools the first week of the school year with applications,” said Shirley of how they are able to identify the families in need. They also rely on school staff to recognize those who may benefit.
The food that is sent home each Thursday is all shelf-ready, meaning it is easy to prepare and does not need to be cooked or refrigerated. There are small cans of pork and beans, chili and ramen noodles that may need to be heated, but other than that they are ready to eat.
“We also have foods such as cereal, fruit, packages of yogurt and dried fruit,” said Shirley.
This year, in an effort to improve the quality of the food, the cost of each kit is going up from $6 to $7.50.
The BoCo Backpack Program participates in the Bite-To-Go Program through Second Harvest in Spokane, whose goal is to bring community resources together to feed people in need through empowerment, education and partnerships. The Bite-To-Go Program feeds 3,500 kids in the Inland Northwest and provides buying power for programs like BoCo Backpack Program. “They also receive input from the University of Washington on the nutrition of items [for the program],” said Shirley.
One of the incentives for starting the local BoCo Backpack Program was when the school week changed from five to four days. “Many kids are in the free and reduced lunch program that also provides breakfast,” said Shirley. “So, when the school week changed, it went from two to three days that these children were unsupported [nutritionally].”
The backpacks full of food are distributed by different methods depending upon the school. At Naples Elementary, the backpacks are put at the back of the room and the children are given them when they walk out the door.
At Mount Hall, they are distributed by a group of volunteer women.
At Valley View, the backpacks are put in the lockers of the students who are in the program. “They are placed in the lockers by members of the leadership group from the high school,” said Shirley. And at Boundary County Middle School, they are placed in the lockers by the middle school’s leadership students. “They have a list of numbers but do not have the names of the students. We try to keep it as discreet as possible,” said Shirley.
The BoCo Program runs throughout the school year, filling a need that is desperately needed. During the summer months the school district has a program through a USDA grant that helps feed children, as the BoCo Backpack Program does not have the funds to run their program year round.
“Food is taken to the pool, and there is also a multi-church Bible School where food is taken to feed all the kids,” said Shirley of the program funded by the USDA grant.
For the 2018-2019 school year, it is estimated that it will cost the BoCo Backpack Program $40,000 to feed all those eligible, which is approximately 150 students, in the school district.
The nonprofit, all-volunteer program is funded from donations from individuals and businesses as well as grants throughout the year. They also hold a few fundraisers to help bring money in. One of those fundraisers is through Boundary Community Hospital. The group has a Tree of Caring on display during the holidays at Boundary Community Hospital. The tree is filled with ornaments made by local school children. Members of the community can take an ornament in exchange for a donation.
The BoCo Backpack Program volunteers work hard to raise not only funds, but also awareness, throughout the year. They will be at the Boundary County Fair and will also hold an open house in September so people can learn more about their mission and role in the community.
BoCo Backpacks is sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church, which provides space for their meetings, a mailbox and insurance. The group also uses the church’s 501(c) (3) status so donations to the program are tax deductible, according to Shirley.
Their meetings are held the third Thursday of each month, with the exception of August and December, at Trinity Lutheran Church at 6pm, and the public is invited.
To make a donation, mail a check to BoCo Backpack Program, c/o Trinity Lutheran Church, 6784 Cody Street, Bonners Ferry, ID 83805. For more information, contact Shirley at 208.255.9847.