When some children go home from school this week, they'll be carrying more than books in their backpacks.
They will take home food to get through the weekend, thanks to Golden Harvest Food Bank's backpack program, said Kristoffer Thompson, the children's program coordinator for the food bank.
"There are, according to Feeding America, about 18 million children in America who are on the free or reduced (price) lunch program," Mr. Thompson said. "For many of those children, when they go home on the weekend, they won't have access to that free or reduced lunch program, and they're not going to have very much, if anything at all, over that weekend. The program is a stand-in for that.
"Obviously, it's not a complete replacement, but it goes a long way toward providing meals for the children over the weekend."
The program provides more than 1,200 children in 10 counties with bags of food.
The children who participate are identified by the program's sites, which include schools. Counselors, teachers, principals and other people help identify the children who could benefit from the free food, Mr. Thompson said.
"For the most part, they'll identify the children based on what they know about that child and that child's home history," he said.
The schools that participate have a high percentage of pupils in their free and reduced-price lunch program, "typically more than 50 percent," he said.
Each bag contains a variety of food, including prepackaged cereal, packaged milk, fruit juice, fruit cups and a canned-meat product.
On the last school day of the week, the bags are secretly placed in the child's bookbag, Mr. Thompson said.
"The idea is to keep it as discreet as possible," he said. "We don't want anyone getting made fun of or teased."
Community support is needed to maintain and expand the program, he said.
"I really want people to understand the importance of, as a community, supporting the backpack program in your local area. So far, we do have it in 10 counties and we're looking to add an 11th, but it's not something we can do beyond a certain point without the help of locals."
People may help by giving money, Mr. Thompson said.
"At $4 a bag, or $16 a month, $128 at an average of about 32 weeks will support a child for the full school year," he said.
Visit www.goldenharvest.org to donate.
Reach Nikasha Dicks at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.