When students leave school for the weekend, the last thing they should have to worry about is how they are going to get their next meal. Thanks to Taylor County’s Weekend Backpack Program, weekends are worry free for a lot of kids in our community.
What is the Weekend Backpack Program?
The Weekend Backpack Program provides almost 100 children annually, who don’t have enough to eat, with nutritious, easy-to-prepare food at times when other resources are not available.
The concept is simple, children at risk of weekend hunger receive a bag of food that is child-friendly, nutritious, nonperishable and easy to eat. The local Extension Service partners with local schools to distribute backpacks every Friday so that children have meals for the weekend. Backpacks are distributed to all the schools in the county.
Each backpack provides enough food that a child can easily assemble into healthy meals for the weekend. This helps ensure the children will have food over the weekend and return to school on Monday ready to learn. Nutrition information and easy to prepare recipes are included weekly by the Extension Service for both the student and the parents.
This program was founded by Taylor County, in 2012, by a long-time educator, Mrs. Carolyn Winningham, who is also a Master Gardner. During her years of teaching, she saw the importance that children are provided with food every day so their focus can be on education and not hunger. She approached the Extension Service about partnering, and the rest is history. There have been many dedicated volunteers throughout the years, who volunteer to unload the truck of food each week, pack backpacks and deliver them to the schools. Volunteers are truly the backbone of this vital program.
UF/IFAS Extension’s Big Part
UF/IFAS Extension is instrumental in writing grants to support the program and collecting monetary donations made by local businesses and individuals. Donations of recycled bags, backpacks, individual items for bags such as: fruit cups, granola bars, packets of grits, small containers of cereal, box milk, box juice, etc. and plastic jars of peanut butter and jelly are also
Surveys are administered at the end of the school year. In 2018-19 school year there was a 66% survey response rate of the 100 student-based surveys distributed. A few responses from the student survey question, “My weekend bag makes me feel….” included:
“My weekend bag makes me feel full.” “My weekend bag makes me feel blessed.”
Student responses from the survey question asking, “My weekend bag helps me…” included:
“My weekend bag helps me have more food, so my mom doesn’t have to spend as much money as she does.”
“My weekend bag helps me play a lot.” “My weekend bag helps me feel great.” “My weekend bag helps me feel full on the weekends.”
91% of students reported sharing their weekend bags with at least one other member of their family.