SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Five years ago the Syracuse City School District brought the Blessing in a Backpack program to its students to help make sure they are well fed. And right now it is Blessing in a Backpack week, so SCSD is using this time to raise awareness to the program in order to help more kids.
Each Friday afternoon some students know their school lunch that day will be their last meal until Monday. But now, Blessing in a Backpack helps alleviate that hunger for students in fifth grade and below. SCSD Director of Food and Nutrition, Rachel Murphy, said the program started out serving just a handful of students.
“It went like wildfire,” Murphy said. “We started with 50 children in Delaware Elementary and very quickly, actually it’s extreme growth.”
Now they serve over 1,200 students food every week. The cost is $135 per student, per year, but the pandemic created more demand.
“We know that the need is there and will be even greater during COVID and after, and probably for a while to come,” Murphy said.
Liverpool Chapter Program Coordinator John Meyer said the impact from hunger lasts a lifetime and can impact learning.
“You come into school Monday morning, you haven’t had anything to eat for 72 hours and your first thought is not, ‘well the teacher says take out your pencil,’” Meyer said.
But because of Blessings in a Backpack, every Friday students in need go home with something extra in their backpack. Instead of just notebooks and folders, they also have enough food to get them through the weekend.
“Blessings in a backpack is specifically designed for the child,” Murphy said. “We provide food that gets put into the child’s hands.”
“They don’t know who we are but we do know that they have the food and they know that somebody cares,” Meyer said.
Murphy said they they make sure no student feels singled out at school when they receive their meal for the weekend.
“It’s very hush hush, we don’t stop all the kids and say ‘you, come here you need to get your pack for the weekend,’ none of that,” Murphy said.
Both Murphy and Meyer hope to see the program grow financially so they can continue providing for students.
“Children are our future, if they’re not fed, where are we,” Murphy said.