With Start of School Year, Food Bank Ramps Up Buddy Packs
As students across Mid-Missouri return to school this week, local advocates are encouraging the community to keep in mind the issue of hunger and adequate nutrition for students.
About half of the students in the Columbia Public Schools district qualify for free or reduced lunches. Many of those students receive food assistance in Buddy Packs – or backpacks that provide meals for kids throughout the weekend. The Buddy Packs are distributed by the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri.
About 7500 students in 157 schools and 32 counties throughout central and northeast Missouri participate in the food bank program, according to Lindsay Lopez, executive director of the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri. She says the percentage of students in rural areas needing nutrition assistance can be much higher than in Columbia, where about half of students qualify for free and reduced lunches.
"There are people who are struggling with food insecurity who are all around us all the time," she said. "It may be that child who sits in class next to our child, or our grandchild. It may be that person who waits on us in a restaurant or helps bags our groceries at the grocery store. We just may not be aware of it."
Columbia Public Schools spokesperson Michelle Baumstark says nutrition and food security are crucial for student learning.
"It’s really difficult to be a learner when you’re hungry," said Baumstark. "You know, there’s a lot nutritionally that is important, so it’s not only about making sure that students have the food that they need but also making sure that there are healthy choices ..."
Through an initiative called “Foods to Encourage,” about 60 percent of foods offered by the food bank in 2017 met their criteria for high-nutrition foods.
And as the Buddy Pack program kicks off its 14th school year, the Food Bank is inviting elementary and secondary students to volunteer with the program’s “Kids Helping Kids” days.