Program to provide take home meals for students

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Schools go a long way in giving students the nutrition they need during lunchtime, and for some kids that is their main meal of the day. Now, a program will provide meals to students over the weekend.

The United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Mahoning Valley and Western PA are teaming up to feed students in the Youngstown City Schools.

A BackPack program kicked off Tuesday at McGuffey Elementary School in Youngstown. Each week, Second Harvest Food Bank will deliver food to the children that they can easily take home on the weekends. Some lunches will contain microwaveable meals, pretzels, animal crackers, cereal, peanut butter, and milk.

“Our students often rely on the school cafeteria to get their main meals each day,” said Dr. Connie Hathorn, Superintendent of Youngstown City Schools, “We now know they will have access to nutritious food on the weekends thanks to the generous support of United Way, Second Harvest, and Ronald McDonald Charities.”

During the 2014-2015 school year, McGuffey Elementary school will pilot the program for Youngstown City Schools.

Darrius Gardi is one of the students that will benefit from the program. For him, the weekends are a struggle. He is just one of hundreds of kids in the Youngstown City School District whose last meal of the week is often lunch at school on Friday. He will be sent home with a backpack full of food every weekend.

“I was excited because I get to take home food,” Darrius said.

Adalee Evans is a classmate to Darrius. She says she doesn’t go hungry on weekends, but it hurts her to think that her friend does.

“Every kids should be able to eat on the weekends,” Adalee said.

Darrius is far from the only child in the Valley facing that kind of problem on the weekend. School administrators said it is easy to spot a child who comes to school hungry. They walk with their head down; they are daydreaming, or looking for something to eat.

Campbell Elementary School Principal Robert Walls helped launch the same program in his school district 10 years ago after kids started coming to him on Monday mornings asking for extra food.

“I am a grandfather in that building. I have 10 grandkids, but Monday through Friday I have 550 grandkids,” said Walls. “It just tears your heart out. I had to find a way, had to find a way to get these kids some food on the weekends.”

“We know there is a huge need in the inner city, and we want to make an impact in the lives of these students,” said Bob Hannon, President United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, “The BackPack program will help make sure these kids don’t go hungry. In turn, it will help the students stay focused when they return to the classroom each week.”

The total cost of the BackPack program at McGuffey Elementary is $36,000 a year. The pilot will run in the one building for the 2014-2015 school year, with the hope of expanding further into the district based on its success.

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