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Backpack program provides snacks for kids

September 03, 2010|by TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Jack Fowler, left, works with fellow Scouts from Boy Scout Troop 10, Hagerstown, Mason-Dixon Council, to stuff snacks into backpacks that will be distributed to kids at local elementary schools. Jack is working on becoming an Eagle Scout but, also says he wants to help young children.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer,

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church wants to feed hungry kids one book bag at a time.

Today marks the first wave of food-filled backpacks heading out to elementary school students through a program known as Micah's Backpack, a church-based ministry coordinated by Trinity Lutheran in downtown Hagerstown.

The bags are filled with nutritious ingredients that kids can assemble on their own, items like tuna kits, canned soup and granola bars.

Church volunteer Mona Hardinge said the bags will be delivered each week until the last week of school, with the exception of major holidays. So far, the church is able to deliver 25 bags a week to Bester and Eastern elementary schools, said Hardinge, a 55-year-old substitute teacher.

She said a few of the bags went out on Thursday, but the majority will be sent out today.

"You don't take it for granted that we open the refrigerator and there's something to eat all the time," Hardinge said. "There's another side, to sit in a classroom and be hungry. That's something my children never had to do."

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In Washington County, 42.2 percent of the students received free or reduced-price meals this past school year. Bester had the highest proportion of students receiving free and reduced-price meals, at 91 percent. At Eastern, the proportion was 59.2 percent, according to figures provided by Jeff Proulx, supervisor of food and nutrition services with the Washington County Public Schools System.

Proulx said school administrators are prohibited by law from disclosing which students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. He said it's up to parents to sign their children up for programs such as Micah's Backpack.

Hardinge said permission waivers were sent to parents at Bester and Eastern Elementary Schools. She said administrators would use discretion when giving the bags to students.

"Kids can be cruel at any age," Hardinge said.

Hardinge said she got the idea last Christmas from her son's girlfriend.

"It just filled my heart to know it could be done," Hardinge said.

Good nutrition has been linked to academic success, what groups like the National Education Association refer to as the "Nutrition Gap."

Pastor Eric A. Norgard said the church had established relationships with Bester and Eastern. Norgard said he was familiar with Micah's Backpack through a similar program he encountered while serving as pastor at a church in South Dakota. He said he was excited to hear there was interest in bringing Micah's Backpack to Hagerstown.

"This is a distinct way to bring help to the children," Norgard said.

Hardinge estimated that it cost around $300 to fund a bag for a school year, a cost the church has been bearing. She said she'd like to see the program spread to middle school and high school.

Hardinge said she's been able to rouse support from people within the church. Jack Fowler, 15, of Hagerstown, rounded up some of his fellow Scouts from Boy Scout Troop 10, Hagerstown, Mason-Dixon Council, to set up a space within the church for storing the food and bags. He also solicited his neighbors for food donations, resulting in 20 bags of food.

He spent Monday, stuffing backpacks for delivery. Jack said he's hoping to become an Eagle Scout, but he said that's not the only reason he's involved in the program.

"Young children are the best people to look at to help," said Jack, a sophomore at St. James School. "I really respect that."




How to donate to Micah's backpack



Trinity Lutheran Church is collecting individual serving sizes of self-sustainable foods such as:

Individual fruit juices

Individual oatmeal packs

Individual shake-and-pour pancake mix

Tuna kits

Macaroni and cheese singles

Microwave dinner singles

Peanut butter or cheese singles

Soup

Apple sauce

Fruit cups or canned fruit

Canned vegetables

Goldfish crackers

Animal crackers

Pudding cups

Granola bars

Individually wrapped snacks

Individual dinners.

To donate goods, call the church, 301-733-2878.

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