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 students 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 Backpacks4Kids Program responds to those times when children are without access to a balanced meal.
The Backpacks4Kids Program was started in 2010 as a part of the Food Bank’s Food4Kids initiative. It was offered in the four GFPS elementary schools with the highest percentage of children eligible for free/reduced meal programs. It has since expanded to cover all 15 of the GFPS elementaries, as well as the primary school in Vaughn.
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 Benefis Health System, Town Pump, and many others, the Food Bank is able to distribute an average 650 packs each week of the school year.