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Bellevue kids get backpacks full of food | Program provides enough groceries to last them a week
By SABRINA SQUIRES
UW News Lab
Every Thursday morning at 8:30, a group of community members gathers at the Bellevue School District warehouse to help solve the issue of hunger — one student at a time.
With grocery bags in hand, volunteers grab snacks, a quart of milk, vegetables, canned foods, fruit cups, raisins — as well as breakfast and lunch items – until the bag is full of sufficient items to last a week, outside of the students’ meals at school.
“I was committed to start, even if there were just a few kids,” said Jan Starr, founder of Backpack Meals for Kids. “I didn’t want to wait.”
Starr got the idea after attending a meeting of the Bellevue Nourishing Network, an initiative for community members to join together and discuss social issues that need addressing. Starr, along with others, realized Bellevue had a problem and wanted to fix it.
Starr launched the program last March, initially packing bags for just 20 students.
According to the Bellevue School District, 22 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Although 4,000 students in the district qualify for the program, the Backpack Meals for Kids program benefits around 50 students a week.
Starr and her volunteers currently serve eight middle and high schools. Different areas have different needs, and Starr’s group works with school counselors in determining who might benefit from the program.
“Counselors and teachers (see) that some kids weren’t receiving an adequate meal,” Starr said, noting that the educators have consistent interactions with their students, so are aware of what is needed at their corresponding schools each week.
The organization is not affiliated with the school district, but it has been very supportive, Starr said.
After 40 to 60 bags are full, volunteers jump into their cars and discreetly bring the backpacks containing grocery bags full of food to the respective schools.
“We drop off the backpacks in the counseling office so the other kids don’t have to know,” noted Kris Kennedy, one of the volunteers.
Once the donated backpacks arrive, students take the plastic bags of food and shove them in their own backpack. A major part of the group’s success over the past two school years has been because of community support; the program is run entirely by donations. Also, since it is partnered with Hopelink, Backpack Meals for Kids is able to obtain food at wholesale.
“What gives me hope is people want to help,” Starr said. “I feel very pleased; we could end hunger in Bellevue.”
For more information on Backpack Meals for Kids, visit www.backpackmeals.org.
Sabrina Squires is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.
From left: Jan Starr, Joan Burns, Kris Kennedy, Lisa Olson, Jo Anne Barrett and Molly Goudy fill sacks with a quart of milk, vegetables, canned foods, fruit cups, raisins — as well as breakfast and lunch items. Sabrina Squires, UW News Lab