Montana Rural Health Initiative

Sanders County BackPack Program

Providing child-friendly, nutritious food during the weekends and holiday breaks

for children battling chronic hunger

In February 2010 Thompson Falls Elementary in conjunction with the Sanders County Health Department, Montana Food Bank Network, and the Rural Health Initiative Incubator Program launched the Backpack Program for their students. The premise of this program is to provide a prepackaged bag of child friendly, nutritious food during the weekends and holiday breaks for children who appear to be battling chronic hunger. The program began its growth by determining if Thompson Falls Elementary was eligible for this opportunity. This was done by examining how many children within the district participate in the Free and Reduced Meal Program. The numbers we found were staggering. Of the 281 students, 68% receive meals through the program. As the requirements for the Backpack Program state that the school must have at least 50% of the population on Free and Reduced Meals, Thompson Falls more than qualified. The next step was finding community support and ensuring school participation. The local newspaper ran an article on the program and through this we received multiple contacts from the community who were interested in volunteering. One of the local churches donated space to store the food, which is delivered on a monthly basis, and the PTO offered their services in distributing and transferring the bags. After all these obstacles fell into place, it was then up to school staff to nominate 30 children for the program. This included children in grades K-6, as well as their younger and older siblings. The teachers, administration, and other employees were given a recommendation form on which they designated a child and listed reasons as to why they felt this student should be placed in the program. A letter was sent home to the parents describing the program and informing them that their child would be bringing home extra food in their backpack on Friday afternoons.

On the 26th of February the first set of bags went home with the children. The response on Monday was very encouraging. Each child was eager for Friday and another package of food, and one child told a heartwarming story about how having extra food on the previous weekend enabled them to go on a family picnic/fishing day. Since then, the program has gone on without interruption. Next year the program will be run for the full duration of the school year, and hopefully serve even more children.