It is a well-known fact that when students are well nourished, they tend to be more focused, well rested and energetic. We don’t need studies to prove this; all we need is to observe students in a classroom. But in a world where poverty and hunger are prevalent, kids are coming to school each and every day just waiting for the moment when they can eat lunch. While we may think this issue is not a local one, nothing could be further from the truth.
For those families in Boundary County who struggle to put food on their tables, the BoCo Backpack Program has been a blessing. The mission of the program is to send food home with each child in need on the last school day before the weekend, ensuring that they are well nourished over the weekend.
Shirley Anderson, who has been involved with the program since its inception, explained that the program, now in its seventh year, began when the Boundary County School District went to a four-day school week.
“The concern was for kids in the free and reduced lunch program that they would go a long time without food,” she said of the three-day weekend. A group of concerned community members gathered together and found a way to help those young students.
The group is made up of all volunteers ensuring that 100 percent of money collected goes directly to feed the children. BoCo Backpacks is sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church, which provides space for their meetings, amailbox and insurance. The group also uses the church’s 501(c) (3) status so donations to the program are tax deductible according to Anderson. “We are so fortunate to be associated with the church,” she said.
The bags, which weigh in excess of seven pounds each, are filled with shelf-ready food; items that need not be refrigerated or cooked.
In its first year, the group began in Naples Elementary School and served 25 students. In its second year it added Mount Hall Elementary and has continued to grow. Today, it serves students at Naples Elementary School, Mount Hall Elementary, Valley View Elementary, Boundary County Middle School and the local Head Start program.
As the program has continued, the need has grown. Last year BoCo Backpacks served 135 children each week, and this year they are already approaching the 150 mark. The food kits are purchased from Second Harvest in Spokane and cost $6 each.
Because it can often be difficult to discern which students are in need, the group depends upon the staff at the schools who work closely with the students to help identify those children who will benefit from the program. This year they have included teachers in the Middle School in the process to ensure they are reaching as many kids as possible.
“We also send a letter home with the fifth graders each year letting them know that (the program) will continue in Middle School,” said Anderson. And when it comes to distributing the bags each Thursday afternoon, the process is very discreet.
Second Harvest visits the Bonner Mall in Sandpoint each month and a volunteer for BoCo Backpacks travels to Sandpoint to pick up a one-month supply of food for the students in Boundary County School District. There are storage spaces at each school and volunteers rotate the food and distribute it.
The group has about a dozen people who volunteer on a regular basis and also receives assistance from the leadership classes in Boundary County Middle School and Bonners Ferry High School. It’s kids helping kids.
“We are careful on how we do it to ensure anonymity,” said Anderson who describes how the bags are associated with a locker number and are placed into the lockers.
The group is anticipating needing a minimum of $25,000 to fulfill its need this year, but with the number of students already at almost 150, it will likely exceed that. “Every year we are experiencing significant growth,” said Anderson.
To help raise money for this worthy program, the Fry Foundation has offered its support this Christmas season. There will be a large Christmas tree in Boundary Community Hospital that will be filled with 150 ornaments created by the children in our local schools. People are invited to choose an ornament from the tree in exchange for a donation. Once the ornament is purchased, it will be replaced by another that will have the name of the purchaser on it.
Boundary Community Hospital’s Marketing and Community Relations Director, Lauren Kuczka, said the Christmas Giving Tree will be on display from November 20 to December 30 during normal business hours.
“Ornaments will also be available at the local American Legion Craft Fair at the Boundary County Fairgrounds on December 2 and 3,” said Kuczka. “One hundred percent of the donations received will be used to provide food for children in Boundary County through the BoCo Backpack Program and Boundary Community Hospital will make matching contributions based on the number of ornaments distributed.”
Anderson is grateful for all the support that has been provided throughout the years.
“We are a team, and it only works because so many are willing to participate,” said Anderson of the group effort.
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.