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Backpack Food Program Models

Backpack food programs aim to close the gap in meals for children between Friday lunch and Monday breakfast by providing food for children over breaks during the school year, such as weekends and longer holidays. Backpack programs provide kids with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and micronutrients needed for proper growth and development.

Backpack programs are typically implemented with assistance from a sponsor, such as a food bank or local business. Sponsors can help provide supplies, administrative work, and/or financial assistance. Most large food banks, such as Feeding America branches, have backpack food programs in place and can expand their program to reach smaller, rural schools in their area. Eligibility is determined by the school or program coordinator and is usually based on faculty and staff reports of hunger and household food insecurity. Backpacks provide food for one child and typically contain nonperishable, easy-to-assemble meals. Elementary schools use backpack programs the most, but this model has been implemented in middle and high schools as well.

Backpack food programs require relationships with area food banks, volunteers, and/or local businesses. Administration and faculty perception and attitudes about the food program should be assessed before implementation. Privacy of the children being served should be a top priority at all times. These programs are meant to serve children on an individual basis, meaning siblings who are not in school or in different schools are not accounted for. The cost of this food program can increase quickly, and thorough assessments of food insecurity in the school can provide better estimates of program costs beforehand. Training for staff and faculty on recognizing the signs of food insecurity can help the program better reach hungry students.

Resources to Learn More

Backpack Program Starter Toolkit
Toolkit for implementing backpack program in schools. Includes toolbox with sample letters for parents, a student identification survey, and culturally appropriate food recommendations.
Organization(s): Northwest Harvest Food bank

Food for Kids Backpack Program - Referral Form
Sample referral form that teachers and staff can use to help recognize and document signs of food insecurity. Form can also be used to recommend students to school breakfast programs.
Organization(s): Food Bank of Albemarle
Date: 12/2012