When you think of child hunger, many times one thinks it is a problem only in big cities but it is happening right here in Nebraska and Iowa. Brian Barks is spokesman for the Food Bank for the Heartland and says they are receiving more and more requests to establish BackPack food programs in their communities. Barks say they have received word from school districts from Kearney, Ogallala and McCook in Nebraska as well as Sidney and Missouri Valley in Iowa.
The BackPack program is where the Food Bank works with local schools to deliver sacks or backpacks filled with two breakfast meals and two lunch-dinner meals that are discretely distributed to students on Fridays so they have food to eat over the weekend.
Barks says the cold, hard winter season uncovered the issue of child hunger in Missouri Valley. He was told that because winter weather caused many late starts of school, kids were showing up sad because they had missed breakfast and had not had anything to eat for dinner the previous night.
A January survey by the Food Research and Action Center shows that 16-percent of Nebraskans and 13-percent of Iowans stated there had been times in the past year when they did not have money to buy food. Barks says another survey by Hunger in America 2010 shows that 40-percent of their client households that receive emergency food assistance have children under the age of 18.
It is estimated that between 75 and 100 children at Missouri Valley Elementary school would participate in the program and about 40-percent of the 432 students qualify for free or reduced price lunches.
Barks says they are now seeking financial assistance from the public to help sponsor weekend food programs for students in the area. The cost to sponsor one child for an entire school year runs about $168. The Food Bank of the Heartland services 77 counties in Nebraska and 15 in Iowa.