Schools fight hunger with backpack snack plans

Going hungry over the weekend happens to children less often in northeast Oklahoma now that several schools have begun snack programs.

Under various names, the programs are similar to those held at Washington and Nichols Elementary Schools in Miami called “Backpack Snack Attack.”

Washington Elementary School principal Vicki Lewis had heard of the program being done in other places around the state as well as in Ottawa County, but is not aware of it being done elsewhere in the Miami Public School district.

Lewis and Peyton Westmoreland, the school-based social worker at Washington Elementary, agreed that there is a need for the program.

Alexander Elementary School in Commerce, Fairland Elementary School and Welch Elementary School each has a program similar to the “Backpack Snack Attack.”

Washington and Nichols have 11 backpacks with 40 students participating, several of them brothers and sisters.

“Sandra Brown, a volunteer at our school, was asked to help with the program,” Westmoreland said. “She's taken it and run away with it. She certainly gets the job done.”

Lewis agreed.

“Sandra does a great job beating the bushes to get the food from local stores,” Lewis said. “Local churches also help.”

The participants in all the programs are recommended by their teachers and school authorities call the parents and confirm it is ok for the students to participate.

Food that's packed up includes items that are age appropriate such as “beanie wienies,” Pop Tarts and Fruit Roll-Ups.

“We give them nutritious snacks,” Lewis said. “It's not just bags of chips or candy.”

Beth Rothman, school-based social worker in Commerce, said that Alexander Elementary began its backpack snack program last fall with backpacks donated by the Salvation Army and assistance from the First Assembly of God Church in Commerce.

“The church secretary sent information about the program to other Commerce churches,” Rothman said. “Since then we've received assistance from First Baptist Church and Southeast Baptist Church, both of Commerce.”

This is the second year that Welch Elementary School sends snacks home daily. The food is provided by the Salvation Army.

“Volunteers bring a week's worth of food on Mondays,” said Kim Hall, principal. “The teachers distribute the food to the students unobtrusively when the other children are out of the room so they won't be embarrassed.”

This is the second year for the program at Welch and Hall feels it's successful.

“When the food is late for some reason, the children come and ask me about it which is a sign of success,” Hall said.

She was thankful for the assistance of the Salvation Army volunteers including the Vinita director Linda Sooter, along with Carol McCord and Linda Moody.

The First United Methodist Church in Fairland helps with the program in Fairland.

“So far, I think the program is successful because the children have been very responsible about returning the backpacks on Mondays,” Lewis said.

Rothman explained that it's difficult to tell if the program is successful or not.

“But, I think ours is,” she said. “The children who benefit from the program are the ones who make it a point to bring the backpacks back on Monday and I think many of ours return them.”