Montana ranks in the top ten states nationwide for very low food security – meaning that households are uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the basic needs of all their members. In Cascade County, 20% of our children are living in poverty. Sixty-seven percent of the student enrolled in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade public schools are eligible for the free/reduced meal programs. Through these programs, children have access to nutritious food – in many cases the only meals they receive each day. The Backpack Program responds to those times when children are without access to a balance meal.
The Backpack Program was started in 2011 as a part of the Food Bank’s Food4Kids initiative. It is currently being offered in four elementary schools with the highest percentage of children eligible for free/reduced meal programs. Each week, children are identified by school staff and faculty as being in need of Backpack assistance. These children receive a pack containing two days of healthy, easy-to-prepare food to help them through the weekend and school breaks when school meal programs are not available.
Thanks to funding from the Walmart Foundation, the Food Bank was able to distribute 11,800 packs during the 2011/12 school year. They are again supporting this program for 2012/13 with a goal of distributing 14,000 packs to chronically hungry children.