One in four children face food insecurity in Arkansas, and in some of our rural counties, that rate is as high as one in three. Children need nutritious food to grow and thrive, and they need it every day. Unfortunately, over 87,000 children in Central and South Arkansas are food insecure, meaning they aren’t sure when or where their next meal will come from.
At the Arkansas Foodbank, we are committed to exploring ways to create seamless access to nutritious food for children who face hunger. We are working to answer questions such as: If a child is food insecure, how often do they have nutritious snacks or meals when they are not in school? How can we make sure children have access to nutritious food at night, on weekends, holidays and during the summer? When parents are forced to choose between basic needs with a very limited amount of money, sometimes a meal doesn’t make the cut.
As we researched the answers to our questions, three strategies emerged that clearly met the criteria: backpacks, school pantries, and summer feeding.
Backpack Program:The Backpack Program helps to provide food-insecure students with weekend meals that are easy to prepare, kid-friendly, and nutritious. The Arkansas Foodbank partners with 87 schools across our service area to provide backpacks filled with kid-friendly foods to hungry students each weekend. Many students rely on schools meals, so the backpack program provides these students with micro-meals, breakfast items, and snacks to eat over the weekend.
Note: Even though school as we know it has changed, the fact that children will continue to need food has not changed. The Arkansas Foodbank will continue to provide backpacks filled with kid-friendly food items to the Backpack Program schools. The Arkansas Foodbank staff will remain in close contact with schools to continue to meet the needs of the students and their families.
Are you interested in starting a Backpack Program at your school? The Arkansas Foodbank Backpack Program is currently at capacity. However, we’d love to share best practices with you. Check out the Backpack Program Toolkit to start a program in your community. More info coming soon!
The impact of childhood hunger is immediate and long-term. But with community-wide support and programs that seek to reach children in their respective places—whether at home during the weekend, after school or through the summer—together we can ensure children have access to healthy and nutritious food all year round. When children receive the food they need to grow and thrive as individuals, they perform better in school, have improved emotional and physical development and ultimately focus on themselves and their community—not their stomachs.