More than 35,000 meal kits were distributed to 1,000 children through the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN)’s Buddy Backpack program during the 2018-2019 school year. In total, 850 children in 14 Iron Range school districts – and all Head Start sites – and 150 students in four Koochiching County school districts – and at KOOTASCA Head Start – were served by the program last year. UWNEMN’s Buddy Backpack program supplies nutritious, nonperishable, child-friendly food items to children at-risk of going hungry over the weekends and on holiday breaks from school.
UWNEMN conducts an annual survey with participating children and school staff who assist in administering the program. According to survey results, teachers and nurses say children using the program feel more self-sufficient and capable, worry less about food availability, and look forward to the backpacks each week. Some report an increase in attendance on Fridays and believe it’s due to the Buddy Backpack program.
Student feedback aligns with that of school staff.
“I’ve gotten through some rough days being hungry because of Buddy Backpacks,” one said. “It’s hard to work on an empty stomach.”
“Buddy Backpacks makes me happy because I can’t concentrate when I’m hungry,” another echoed.
School staff said there is a need for the Buddy Backpack program to not only sustain but to grow. They responded that more than 140 additional children would be in need of Buddy Backpacks if the program was able to expand.
“Our goal at UWNEMN is to ensure that no children in our region go home hungry,” said UWNEMN Resource Development & Events Director Elizabeth Kelly. “We are grateful for the outpouring of support from both donors and volunteers over the previous year. The program would not be possible for area children without volunteers and financial contributors.”
In addition to the weekly meal kits, UWNEMN provides a complete hygiene kit to all children enrolled in the program.
Volunteer opportunities to pack Buddy Backpacks will begin again in September. For volunteer opportunities, click here.
To donate to the Buddy Backpack program, click here.
To read the full survey results, click here.