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“Backpack Buddy” expands to Winn, Head Start

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By Kristin Beck

A program providing food on the weekends during the school year for students in lower-income families is expanding its reach in Carroll County.

The Dare to Care Food Bank’s Backpack Buddy program, which already supports 44 Cartmell Elementary students, began distributing food Friday to 30 students at Kathryn Winn Primary and 20 students at Carroll County Head Start. The program is free for both the students and for the schools.

According to Dare to Care’s website, Backpack Buddy is a program that provides “kid friendly” foods to schoolchildren from low-income families on weekends when they do not receive free or reduced-price school lunches and school breakfasts. Dare to Care nutritionists create weekly menus to provide a balanced assortment of food.

Cartmell counselor Lee Dillon said students receive a package each Friday during the school year. Items include fresh fruit, cereal and beef stew. At the end of the school year, students are given a survey from Dare to Care to take home to their parents to evaluate the program.

Family Ties family advocate Cydney Conley said she first applied for the 2009-10 school year for Kathryn Winn, but Dare to Care did not have enough funding. However, an anonymous donor called the school and offered to help the students.

“All we know is they called and they gave us a dollar amount and said they saw a need and they wanted to do it,” Conley said. Through the donor’s generosity, 45 Winn students received food each week, similar to the Backpack Buddy program.

Conley re-applied at the end of the last year for this school year, and she was told the school would not need to re-apply next year. “Once we’re in, (Dare to Care will) keep us as long as the funding is there,” she said.

In the application, Conley included information regarding the total number of students on free and reduced lunches as well as why she thought there was a need in the community for the program.

“We know there are a lot of kids who are latchkey kids, and they go home and the parents aren’t there, so it’s stuff that it’s easy that they can fix,” she said. She said it is also a good supplemental food source because their families have several children in one household to feed.

Conley said they try to collaborate with Cartmell by putting younger siblings in the program first and then choosing students based on referrals from school staff.

Over at Cartmell, they have had the program for at least a year and a half, according to Dillon. While 44 children are currently receiving food, they also have a total of 50 spots, which Dillon said the school should have no problem filling.  He said the former Kentuckians Educating Youths Successfully program through North Key initiated the application process.

“We saw the need that there were kids that were coming in hungry,” Dillon said. “You could tell they weren’t getting what they needed, especially on weekends.” He said he and the teachers could tell because the students talked about how hungry they were and because of the economic situation the children live in.

“The kids look forward to it and ask, ‘Are we having backpack buddies today?’” Dillon said. “… I think it’s meeting a nutritional need for these kids. … It’s also helped the relationship between myself and the kids as the counselor. They know who I am, so they aren’t afraid to come talk to me.”